A south-side school cafeteria failed several health inspections this summer.

But the problem isn’t an imminent threat to students’ health or safety.

It’s a problem with a cafeteria sink not meeting the county’s building code.

Ocotillo Early Learning Center, a preschool and a school for students with disabilities, at South Campbell Avenue and East Drexel Road, received a ‘needs improvement’ rating from the Pima County Health Department on June 20.

A health inspector saw three violations: a worker touching ready-to-eat food with bare hands, a grimy can opener, and a sanitizing sink that drains directly into the sewer system.

The first two problems were corrected the same day.

But the health inspector came back three times in July and failed the school each time because the sink hadn’t been fixed.

This situation is a first for the Sunnyside Unified School District, which has a practically spotless health-inspection record at all its school cafeterias. Schools are typically inspected three times a year.

Before Ocotillo failed three times, the inspector additionally issued several warnings about the sink, said Jeff Terrell, Pima County Consumer Health and Food Safety program manager.

The potential threat is sewage could back up into the sink, contaminating dishes or food that could be served to kids, he said.

The sink should drain into a floor sink and then drain into the sewer, Terrell said. If sewage were to back up, it would then back up onto the floor instead of into the sink, he said.

The rules about sinks haven’t changed, but some problems were missed during construction inspections, Terrell said. Now the county is trying to bring them all up to code.

The school district plans to install a floor drain at the 40-year-old school in the next few weeks, said Sunnyside food services director John Oakley.

Because older schools previously were grandfathered in, the district spent some time contesting the health department’s order.

Now the health department has begun issuing warnings about sink problems at other older Sunnyside schools, he said.