posted 2012-10-25 13:29:14

City Shuts Down Hunter Cafeteria

Evidence of mice found, AVI rakes in 61 health violation points

Kimberly Devi Milner

News Editor

Additional Reporting by Jenady Garshofsky

The sign posted on the cafeteria door by the Department of Health. Photo by John Bolger

Critical health violations such as the presence of mice, and storing food at improper temperatures were among the health violations that led the Department of Health to temporarily close Hunter College’s cafeteria last week.

AVI Foodsystems, the campus food provider that took over in 2008, racked up 61 “violation points” on an Oct. 10 inspection -- a 50 point increase from a city inspection a year ago that granted the catering service an “A” rating.

According to the city’s Health Department, restaurants that receive fewer than 13 violation points receive an “A” restaurant grade, while 14 to 27 points earn the food provider a “B.”  28 or more violation points will leave a restaurant with a “C”   and can serve as a premise to close the shop.

The number of points racked up for a specific violation depend on the health risks it poses to the public. A public health hazard violation that cannot be fixed by the end of the inspection will grant the department of health the right to close down the given facility until the problem is fixed. A critical violation results in five points, the most extensive score for a violation.

The critical violations cited in the inspection included: evidence of mice present in facility’s food service and storage areas; food not being protected from potential source of contamination; sanitized equipment being improperly used or stored; and hot and cold food items being held at insufficient temperatures. The cafeteria also received a violation for failing to be vermin proof and for having conditions that were conducive to attracting vermin to the premises.

“We weren’t expecting an inspection,” said an AVI supervisor at the scene of the failed inspection.

The closed cafeteria quickly attracted flowing crowds of curious and hungry students, who were directed to the AVI’s eighth-floor faculty dining hall, and the campus Starbucks for alternative AVI food service.

“I don’t know what’s going on – I just want to know more,” said Media student, Ian Goldberg, 25, who watched AVI personal and Hunter facility members rigorously cleaning and discussing damage control plans through the food service area’s glass walls. Goldberg had eaten a veggie burger he purchased earlier from the cafeteria’s American entree section for lunch.

“I was kind of hoping the violation wasn’t because of mice,” said Media major and junior, Kim Delgado-Mata, 19, who said she frequented the cafeteria no more than twice a week, and only to buy quesadillas.

“I don’t like going into the cafeteria and thinking it’s going to be dirty, but I’m not surprised about Hunter getting a violation,” said Delgado-Mata.

After closing the cafeteria at 3 p.m. on Oct. 10, AVI workers vacuumed shelves and the inside of beverage coolers, as the workers at the Miso station scrubbed the metal grills that previously held pre-packaged food. The Miso service station continued to be extensively cleaned after workers had emptied the other stations.

In an apparent effort to address the health violation that the cafeteria was not “vermin proof,” AVI personnel and Hunter facilities examined the roughly 1 ½ inch gap between the cafeteria’s glass wall and sliding glass door that secures the restaurant at night. Later that afternoon Hunter personnel installed approximately six-inch long vinyl panels to temporarily prevent the further entrance of rodents and other vermin.

After the inspection, the cafeteria posted a grade pending sign on the door. Photo by Mimiko Watanabe

On Friday, Oct. 12, the company minimized the gap between the glass doors to just a few centimeters. According to Acting Chief Operating Officer Leonard Zinnanti, AVI was reinspected on Friday and passed the inspection.

“Hunter officials met with AVI Food Systems personnel Monday to discuss opportunities for proactive measures that can be taken to prevent a reoccurence. These meetings will be on-going,” Zinnanti said.

Last fall AVI’s Hunter campus food service received violation points for mice and filth flies in October, both critical violations that carry minimum five point penalty.  In total, the cafeteria received 11 violation points for unsanitary conditions. After addressing the violations, the campus catering received “A’s” on each of the multiple-site inspections.

AVI directed all media inquires, including how it would address the violations, and assure students, to Hunter College’s Office of Communication.

“We do not believe there is a persistent problem insofar as the Department of Health has consistently given AVI an ‘A’ rating,” said Zinnanti, in an email.

After being closed for the latter part of the week, AVI opened on Oct. 12 at 3 p.m. for two hours. It reopened with its original hours and service stations this past Monday.

“We are fully committed to ensuring AVI Food systems fully complies with all applicable Health and Safety regulations; We ask our students and faculty to assist by reporting any unsafe observations in our food service operations,” Zinnanti said.

Despite students’ shock at seeing the Health Department’s yellow sign of restaurant shame displayed prominantly on AVI’s pristine glass doors last week, traffic to the food provider of global cuisine did not lessen the flow of students on AVI’s first full-day of operation.

“I had second thoughts about going in,” said Media major and junior, Julissa Cajigas, 20, “but I was hungry – the cafeteria is super convenient.”

Early this year Hunter College and AVI provided funds for extensive renovations to the cafeteria’s exterior and dining halls.

Hunter College has renewed its contract with AVI Foodsystems until July 31, 2019, and has the opportunity to renew it for another year.  In the past, AVI has been criticized for its treatment of workers shortly after it contracted with the college. After a workers’ strike in 2009, the company negotiated with Union 100 to provide workers healthcare and retirement benefits.

Currently at the time of print, the cafeteria has a pending grade.