Try juggling preparing meals for hundreds of students every day while maintaining a clean kitchen up to federal health standards, all with limited time, staff and supplies.
That's the task facing many cafeteria workers in district and charter schools, said Doris Smith, president of the public-school cafeteria union, Local 634.
Under those circumstances, Smith said, it's almost impossible for workers to get it right all the time.
She defended the nearly 900 food workers she represents after the Daily News reported yesterday that an overwhelming number of schools - 53 percent of public schools, 66 percent of charters, and 35 percent of Archdiocesan schools - failed their latest health inspection.
"They do work hard with what they have," she said. "Do I say 100 percent? No, but do they give the best that they have with what they have? Absolutely."
She said that the main impedimentto her members doing their job is a lack of supplies provided by the school district.
Although 92 district schools with full-service kitchens get supplies like mops, buckets, towels and hand wipes once a month, Smith said, the majority of buildings - 221 total - must make do with an annual shipment.
"Some schools get plenty while some get little," she said. "It's a strange situation at times."
A district spokesman disagreed, saying that a review of inspection reports made no mention of a lack of supplies.
"Our employees are provided enough supplies to do their jobs," said spokesman Fernando Gallard. "None of the issues brought up in the health inspections was about the lack of supplies."
A kitchen that is short staffed also poses a problem, while old appliances and equipment don't make the job any easier, Smith said.
Typically, three to seven employees work in a full-service kitchen. Schools that receive their meals from outside vendors may have up to three workers.
With few people sharing the workload, Smith said, workers don't have enough time to cook and clean, so the latter gets short shrift.
Smith also said that workers don't get adequate training. Gallard disagreed, and said that not only are food-service workers trained when they're hired, but they also receive professional development throughout the year.
Smith, who's worked in lunchrooms in the district for more than 30 years, said that she's not trying to make excuses. She said that she's been encouraged by several of the new schools.
At the end of the day, the workers want to do a good job, Smith said.
"Most of them are trying their best because they realize these are their children and grandchildren also," she said.