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School food service worker fired; Officials at Ida S. Baker point out several violations

By Staff | Sep 10, 2008

The Lee County School Board voted 4-0 to terminate the employment of Hung T. Kirtley, a food service worker at Ida S. Baker High School, after the school’s administration filed continual reports of Kirtley’s inadequate handling of food and her failure to follow district protocol.

Kirtley was not present at Tuesday’s hearing and none of the school board members discussed the termination before voting. Her termination is effective Sept. 9, according to the district’s petition.

“Because of the danger of food contamination and the potential for the spread of food-borne illness, any procedural deficiency relating to sanitation and hygiene is unacceptable,” said Ben Williams, assistant principal of Ida S. Baker High in a warning to Kirtley. “You have continued to exhibit deficiencies in the areas of sanitation, hygiene, personal safety and procedural compliance.”

On March 5, Williams sent Kirtley a warning about her unsatisfactory performance in preparing food at the kitchen and while on the serving line.

In one incident in January Kirtley was removing pickles from a jar with her bare hands after being continually warned to wear gloves. A day later she sneezed into a salad mix without covering her mouth and the food had to be discarded.

Four days later Kirtley was observed touching the rim of a garbage can with a gloved hand and then went on to handle food without changing gloves.

In February, one incident report described her preparing celery sticks and side salads on the edge of a sink not designated by the district to be a proper surface for prepping.

Later that month she was asked to cover an open sore on her arm while serving food.

Williams attempted to describe some of the situations in his warning to Kirtley, which was later forwarded to the district.

“A co-worker observed you coughing over two serving plates of food, causing those students to reject the food and others to leave the serving line,” said Williams in his warning. “Additionally, at other times you have been observed wiping your face on the serving apron and blowing your nose and failing to wash your hands.”

According to the school district, Kirtley was sent to a training program that covers food service procedures on Jan. 18 called “Safe Serve Program.” At the conclusion of the class she was administered a food safety exam where she only answered 12 of 50 questions correctly.

It is unclear why district officials waited nearly a year before terminating Kirtley’s contract, especially with the results of her food safety exam, but district spokesperson Joe Donzelli said the termination process varies from case to case.

“There may be extenuating circumstances. It all depends, some are quick and others are longer,” said Donzelli.

Some complaints were even made by students to staff at Ida S. Baker High. In November an employee told Denise Callahan, the food service manager, that Kirtley had thrown pieces of food at a student who appeared “very upset” moments after the assault. Kirtley reacted by laughing.

The employee subsequently stated that she would not be eating at the school’s cafeteria ever again.

Portion control was also a major issue outlined in the district’s termination petition.

“Proper portion control is a big part of management,” said Jim Howe the supervisor of Food and Nutrition.

The district’s food service budget is $33.7 million and cafeteria managers are directed to use proper portioning to avoid waste.

In one incident, according to the warning from Williams, Kirtley sliced an additional 86 slices of pizza resulting in wasted product and a loss of revenue.

Another time her inability to rotate food resulted in food spoilage.

In a final performance assessment, the district stated that Kirtley needed to develop her ability to maintain high standards in food preparation, practice high standards in sanitation, and improve her communication with staff and students.

On the other hand, Kirtley was assessed as exhibiting an “effective level of performance” in regards to her punctuality and attendance, dependability, flexibility, exhibiting a positive attitude and having a good rapport with other staff.