Managing Cafeteria Microbes


Following up on an earlier service-learning project in which students worked to combat the spread of viruses at Lisbon Central School, a new class of seventh-graders learned from the school nurse about another microbial challenge. The nurse noted that a recent policy change had influenced the cleaning of cafeteria tables, and asked students to help determine the effectiveness of the current cleaner and cleaning procedures.

To learn more about this issue, students read articles about the presence of microbes in public schools, and researched recommended cleaning protocol in public dining facilities. Then students devised a plan for observing the current cleaning practices in the cafeteria during each lunch period. In collaboration with the daytime custodian in charge of lunchroom cleaning, students carried out their observation plan.


After collecting baseline data regarding the presence of microbes on cafeteria tables, students analyzed their findings. They realized that they needed to determine whether the current cleaner would be effective at microbe control if used properly (i.e., scrubbed on the tables versus wiped). Students conducted further controlled tests of table cleaning and used the resulting data to help generate proposed changes in policies and practices.

Students performed some analysis of data (e.g., graph-making) at home so that there would be adequate time in class for discussion and planning of next steps. Students presented their findings and proposed solutions to the school nurse, administrators, custodians, and members of the school’s allergy committee. The students’ graphs and presentation convinced school administrators to make changes in policies and procedures that would improve microbe control. “I think this project helped improve the sanitation of our school,” one student noted. Another observed, “I’m proud that the work we did is helping keep students at our school safe and healthy.”