Five honored with Golden Spatula

By Greg Gelpi

Providing healthy school lunches can be hazardous to the health of school cafeteria workers.

Among the ovens, slicers, knives, wet floors and steamers, five Clayton County school cafeterias, though, earned Golden Spatula Awards for serving up safety and not suffering any accidents for the past school year.

The recipients of the Golden Spatula were East Clayton Elementary, Lake City Elementary, Fountain Elementary, Smith Elementary and Jonesboro Middle.

To earn a Golden Spatula, a school cafeteria had to report there were no injuries in the kitchen for the previous school year.

"I'm talking about anything from a cut to an amputation," said Sharon Kenerly, the school system's workers' compensation specialist. "Some other counties have less than that, so I'm really proud."

The school system didn't let the cafeterias know of the competition until just prior to awarding the Golden Spatulas.

"I was surprised," Anna Mann, the manager of Smith's cafeteria, said about the award. "I didn't know it was going to happen. I'm pleased that we received it, but also pleased that we didn't have any accidents."

Cafeteria workers must work together to prevent accidents, she said. For instance, when lifting 50-pound bags of sugar, a pair of employees must do the lifting, rather than one person risking an injured back doing the work alone.

"We were just "Oh, you're kidding,'" said Susan Griffin, the manager of East Clayton's cafeteria, upon learning of the honor. "We're just very, very careful."

Cleaning up spills promptly and keeping the floors clean are among the ways the cafeteria prevented any injuries last year, she said.

"It can be very dangerous," Griffin said. "The floors in the kitchen are waxed in the summer. Add water to that wax and it's like walking on ice."

In addition, everything in a school cafeteria is supersized from large ovens to oversized utensils, she said, which supersizes the risk of injury.

With all of the slicing and dicing in school kitchens, cuts are the most common injury, said Jane Lofton, the school system's director of nutrition. The system, though, focuses on safety.

"The school as a whole, the cafeteria as a whole has to be aware," Lofton said. "We were amazed that anyone had no accidents, much less five."

The Clayton County school system served lunch to 39,085 students daily last school year.