PARKER, Colo. -- Day care centers can be a hotbed for germs. If a place cares for 200 children, that means there are 2,000 tiny little fingers touching their faces and then sharing toys.
If not cleaned properly, diseases such as norovirus can spread like wildfire. The infected germs can travel 12 feet in 30 seconds.
“You could have an outbreak, certainly. And that’s what you don’t want to happen and there have been centers in the past that have closed down because of those things,” said Dan King, owner of the Goddard School in Parker.
The Goddard School is just one of dozens of day care centers in the Denver and Tri-County Health Department areas. At any time, they are subject to random, unannounced inspections from a local health department. Most are spot checked once a year.
Health inspectors check for critical and noncritical violations. Critical violations are more likely to contribute to illness or injury. Noncritical violations, if uncorrected, could negatively affect the operation of the facility but do not directly cause illness or injury.
The FOX31 Denver Problem Solvers cameras got to go along for The Goddard School’s April inspection to see how clean or dirty day care facilities are.
“The first question I have is, how do you do a diaper change?” Tri-County health inspector Caitlin Gappa said.
Gappa said diaper changing is one of the most important things health inspectors check for because bodily fluids can carry many different diseases.
Diaper changing stations must include disinfectant, gloves, a trash can with a lid and a sink within reach. Most day care facilities get diaper changing right.
The kitchen is also high on the health inspector’s list. Some facilities prepare food for the children so kitchens are subject to more rigorous inspections.
The Goddard School does not prepare food, except for infant bottles. Gappa’s main concern was the temperature of the refrigerator.
“I just take the temperature to make sure it’s 41 degrees or below,” she said as she put a thermometer in the refrigerator.
Since January, two Denver County day care centers were found storing breast milk and formula at unsafe temperatures. In one case, the refrigerator was set at 46 degrees. Another facility tested at 51 degrees. Gappa said 41 degrees or colder ensures the milk and formula do not spoil.
One area where day care facilities have much more trouble is at the sinks.
Gappa asked staff members in each room about their hand-washing policies to see if the entire facility is following the same practices.
According to health department standards, children and staff are supposed to wash their hands every time they come in or out of the room, before and after eating, if they use the restroom, touch their face, and before and after playing with toys. The regimen can be a hard schedule to stick to.
“Hand-washing violations are pretty common,” Gappa said.
Gappa said if a hand-washing violation is observed, she works on educating the child, staff member, classroom and facility on proper techniques.
The Problem Solvers wanted to dig deeper. We combed through records of every health inspection conducted in Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas and Denver counties in 2016 to see what the top three critical violations are.
Biggest mistake No. 3
The third biggest mistake day care facilities make is not repairing chipped paint. So far in 2016, 27 facilities in Denver have been docked for the violation.
“It’s not smooth and easily cleanable. If there is a chip in the paint, bacteria can grow in that and you can’t clean it as well,” Gappa said.
Biggest mistake No. 2
The second most common critical violation is not having hot water at sinks. Sinks should be able to produce hot and cold water. Hot water should be between 90 and 120 degrees to help kill germs during hand washing. In Denver, 32 day care facilities have been found without hot water.
The biggest mistake day care centers make is with sanitizer and disinfectant. Out of every Denver day care inspected in 2016, nearly half were given critical violations related to sanitizer and disinfectant concentrations.
“If it’s too low, then it doesn’t do the job properly. If it’s too high it can leave a toxic residue,” Gappa said.
Health inspectors use a simple chemical test strip to determine the strength of the sanitizer and disinfectant.
Sanitizer, which is safe for food contact surfaces, toys and tabletops, must register between 50 and 100 parts per million. Disinfectant, which is used for diaper changing and high hazard body fluids like vomit and bathroom accidents, must register at 2,400 parts per million.
Critical violations can also include things such as an unapproved classroom pet, running out of paper towels and low water pressure at water fountains.
Violations like these are fairly common during routine random inspections. One facility in Denver was cited for having roaches present at the day care.
But Gappa said overall, most area day care facilities do a pretty good job at keeping kids healthy.
“You know, I really haven’t seen anything horrible in child cares, thankfully,” she said.
All day care centers that receive violations during inspections are given the chance to correct their mistakes either immediately or during a follow-up inspection.
The Goddard School received a critical violation in December for not having paper towels available at a restroom sink. The Goddard School complied with the violation that same day by replacing the paper towels.
During a follow-up inspection when FOX31 Denver was present, the school had corrected all mistakes and received a clean health inspection.
The Tri-County Health Department lists its inspection records online. They are available seven days after the date of inspection.
Here are inspection reports from Denver County day care centers.