When an inspector calls for a food inspection, one might imagine a man blending in at a restaurant trying out all the food he can and looking for everything and anything to get the place in trouble. That’s only half true. In the case of the eateries on campus like Grace Watson, Ritz Sport Zone and The Commons, inspections are much more organized and unlike anything one might have seen on television.
The New York State Department of Health gives the general guidelines and rules for inspectors while counties can vary the levels of strictness and frequency of inspections. Generally, inspectors look for two types of violations: critical and general. Critical violations are incidents that are more likely to cause food-borne illness and sickness to customers. A general violation refers to situations like mislabeled or misplaced foods and slight damage to ceilings and floors. After the inspection is done, whoever is in charge of keeping the restaurant up to standard is given a copy of all the violations found on site. Any critical violations must be resolved before the inspector leaves and a grade is given to the establishment based on what the inspector found.
In March, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo launched open.ny.gov, which according to the website was designed to offer “user-friendly, one-stop access to data from New York State agencies, localities, and the federal government.” Here, one can look up inspections completed since 2005. In 2012 there were 97 violations at RIT, 24 of which were critical.
For example, searching for Grace Watson brings up the most recent inspections done on Nov. 11, 2012. Some of the violations described that day were: “Floors, walls, ceilings, not smooth, properly constructed, in disrepair, dirty surfaces, lighting and ventilation inadequate.” These violations are not considered critical. Reading this may seem concerning, but as Stacey Clements, the Safety, Training and Compliance manager for all dining locations on campus, explained; “If maintenance comes in and moves a ceiling tile, that falls under a violation.”
Across eateries at RIT, some of the more common critical violations include improperly labeled or stored toxic chemicals, potentially hazardous food not being kept at or below 45 degrees Fahrenheit and a lack of hot or cold storage equipment.
Though inspections aim to solve and prevent problems, Clements said they can often lead to some misunderstandings and exaggerations. “What you have to remember and what the health inspector always has to remind me of is that a health inspection is a snapshot in time,” said Clements. Because of this, the inspections and what is actually reported may not always accurately portray the conditions of the establishment year round.
In addition to working with state inspectors, Clements does her own inspections to make sure that the establishments on campus are up to standard before the state inspections are done. Both follow the same procedures, but state inspections happen twice a year. “We then take it a step further beyond what [the inspector] does and says, ‘Why was that that way and how can we make sure that never happens again,’” said Clements.
An anonymous dining services student worker described his experience concerning health issues. “Most things are pretty well-kept and [the managers] are pretty good about training,” he said. “Every once in a while, I go to the back to get a pot and the pot I just grabbed is a bit dirty. The people who are supposed to be cleaning it are doing a very poor job.” He said he didn’t really notice any serious violations at the workplace. “The managers are pretty good at making sure it doesn’t happen again or the person gets fired,” he explained.
The perspective of students who eat regularly on campus is also important. Second year Mechanical Engineering major Charles Krouse did not have any negative opinions of the dining places on campus. “Nothing ever really stood out to me as in, ‘Oh I’d never eat there or eat that.’ I’ve heard people say they had a hair in their food or a bug but I never experienced that,” he said.
Clements noted that student opinion is varied and cited Gracie’s as the place with the most complaints. “When we keep asking a person what they don’t like about [Gracie’s], they can’t even specifically say what it is or they haven’t eaten there in a year or so,” she said. Still, dining services tries to consider every opinion when making changes to the eateries on campus.
“We are continually trying to change and improve all perceptions whether they are currently good or currently bad,” stated Clements. Beyond preventing violations, dining services is always looking for ways to upgrade while taking student opinion into account.
Violations for any dining establishment in New York State can be found at health.data.ny.gov.