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Too Close For Comfort? LIU Contract With Dining Provider Aramark Is Just Beginning

WRITTEN BY: KASIDY MORALES, NEWS EDITOR

REPORTING BY: MICHAEL CHIN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

The “CLOSED” notice by the NYC health department posted on the front door of the Subway/Red Mango facility over this past summer. PC: Michael Chin

In a recent interview with Seawanhaka, Gale Stevens Haynes – vice president of academic a airs and chief operating officer at the Brooklyn Campus – confirmed that LIU’s contract with Aramark, the university’s longtime food service provider, will run through at least 2025.

“It’s a ten-year contract and I think that it’s probably two or three years old,” she said. “It has a lot of life on it.”

But the long contract exists even after a controversial history that has included a number of health violations at campus dining facilities, including a citation from the city health department this past summer.

Aramark, which is also known as LIU Campus Dining, currently operates the Brooklyn Campus’ main eateries with Subway, Red Mango, Luntey Cafe, Peet’s Co ee & Tea, and the Blackbird Cafe at Conolly Residence Hall.

Above Ground: Subway Shutdown

Last summer, the city health department ordered the campus’ Subway restaurant closed on July 31. The critical violations according to the NYC Department of Mental Health and Hygiene included “evidence of mice or live mice present in facility’s food or non-food areas and sanitized equipment or utensil, including in-use food dispensing utensil, improperly used or stored.”

In separate interviews with Seawanhaka, both Haynes and Marian Reed, the food service director for the Brooklyn Campus explained that the Subway/Red Mango facility was already going to be closed during the summer months, just like the Blackbird Cafe traditionally is.

Both shied away from the idea that the closure, visible by the sign on the Subway’s front door in the summer stating the facility was closed by order of the commissioner of health and mental hygiene, was due to major health code violations.

According to Haynes, the citation stemmed from dust and other particles getting into unused equipment. “It was shut down for the entire summer,” she said. “So it was dusty. It wasn’t up to speed,” she said.

“There was no food there. It was simply shut down right after graduation.”

The Subway/Red Mango facility was later reopened a week later after being re-inspected on Aug. 7, and received a “Grade Pending” notice, which had been left up until recently before becoming a grade A facility.

Generally, department of health violations are based on not properly sanitizing cooking utensils. A critical violation occurs if a restaurant serves raw food, such as salads, without properly washing it.

The last category is public health hazard, such as failing to keep food at the right temperature.

Since July 2010, the health department has required all restaurants to post letter grades showing inspection results to the public. Restaurants are graded with a score between 0 and 13 points earn an A; 14 to 27 points receives a B grade, and those with 28 points or more will receive a C grade. (At the time the Subway/Red Mango closed, it racked up violations totaling 60 points.)

Aramark: A Much Closer Look

Founded in 1959 and based in Philadelphia, Aramark – the nearly $9 billion corporation – provides food to hospitals, schools, stadiums and correctional facilities across the country. But for years, it has brought any number of lawsuits.

In 2008, the Florida Department of Corrections fined the company $240,000 for its services inside state prisons. Aramark has also been criticized for its work by the Chicago Teachers Union. And this fall, activists named the company as part of a major protest against conditions in America’s prisons.

And now New York University has been receiving student pressure to drop Aramark, which has serviced the campus for the past 20 years, as a petition that was signed by several hundred students and graduates was circulated last spring.

At the Brooklyn Campus, Aramark has had a troubled history – including two separate cases in 2011. at spring, the health department closed the Blackbird Cafe. Among the violations was the failure to properly sanitize the food contact surface.

In another inspection that August, the Blackbird Cafe had even more severe health violations with mice infestation in certain areas of the facility and cross contamination with the food.

The cover of Seawanhaka when the Blackbird Cafe was first shutdown by the health department in 2013.

Another shutdown of the Blackbird Cafe occurred in February 2013 when the city health department cited fruit flies and roaches. In its reporting, Seawanhaka interviewed several students who reported feeling sick or nauseous after eating there.

Seawanhaka’s reporting of that incident had also sparked a censorship battle after issues of that edition mysteriously disappeared on campus newsstands just after its release. The case brought coverage in major news outlets including the New York Post.

Another shutdown of the Blackbird Cafe took place in 2015. Seawanhaka interviewed a number of students, who declined to be identified, who had their own complaints about Aramark that even went beyond food quality, including a hostile encounter – in which a staffer at the Blackbird Cafe yelled her at recently. “Personally, it seems like they are worried about putting up fancy posters rather than the quality of the food,” said another student, who lives in Conolly Residence Hall.

Reach Out. But Who Is Placing The Call?

For students who have any concerns about any of the dining facilities, Haynes said, “I think Aramark has a food committee [and] students should participate; they should use their voices, if their issues are of greater selectivity or options or healthier food.”

“I find that services are as good as the people who access them. If we are quiet, then we probably won’t get the best.”

The Subway/Red Mango facility after being shutdown by failing a health inspection with a total of 60 health code violation points. PC: Michael Chin

With many years left to go on the contract, Haynes is confident about campus dining. “Aramark was the food provider for our Post campus for many years before they came to this campus. I’m talking about decades,” she said.

“So we think that they’re a quality company….. I think they have a good track record, nationally. And again, do I think that they could do a better job here? Absolutely. And we are going to be pushing them to do so, but I need the students also to weigh in on this.”

Aramark is also the provider for food service at LIU Post, where the services appear to be far less controversial.

“The most complaints I heard of were with the time it takes to get food,” said Jada Butler, news editor of the student-run newspaper, The Pioneer.

“In my one-and-a-half years at Post, I have never heard of any health violations. From my own observation, the staff seem to do a good job with preventing cross contamination with different foods.”

While LIU Brooklyn’s food service director, Reed, declined Seawanhaka’s request to electronically record her interview, She stated that students are encouraged to attend the office’s daily morning meetings and can leave feedback in the Voice of Consumer Box on top of the front desk in the Blackbird Cafe.

In general, though, Reed – who has only been at the Brooklyn Campus for one year – states that she has no prior knowledge of previous, shutdowns of dining facilities, especially at the Blackbird Cafe. “If we are only concerned about the past all the time, we will never move forward to better things.” Some plans are soon to be announced.

The cover of Seawanhaka when the Blackbird Cafe was shutdown for the second time by the health department in 2015.

And when asked if the Student Government Association (SGA) has reached out on behalf of the student body to ensure better food quality, Reed answered, “Unfortunately, no. We encourage all students to have a voice in dining options.”

In a brief interview, SGA President Emily- Anna Barba stated that students can contact her office with any of their concerns about campus dining.

In the meantime, Barba said that she plans to reach out to Aramark, although no time frame was given.

 

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Category: News, Student Life, The Buzz