By Dipti Kumar and Avesta Khursand

Take a walk into one of the 12 eateries on the Stony Brook Campus and you are met by a variety of culinary picks.

From steaming Indian curries and soft breads at Café Spice—the Jasmine Food Court in the Charles B. Wang Center—to the buffet-style service at the Student Activities Center, there is something for everyone.

The university requests periodical manager reports to reduce unsafe dining conditions. (EFAL SAYED/THE STATESMAN)
The university requests periodical manager reports to reduce unsafe dining conditions. (EFAL SAYED/THE STATESMAN)

However, the establishments serving some of those favorite sushi rolls, burgers and salads became targets of concern for county health inspectors on a recent visit, who recently cited several of these eateries for violating temperature requirements that help protect food from contamination and not adhering to certain safety rules guidelines.

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At the Asian-themed Café-Spice Jasmine Food Court, boxes of sushi were stored beneath raw beef, risking cross-contamination.

The Taiwanese bubble tea station had a pound of tapioca balls sitting without appropriate heat treatment or refrigeration according to the health inspection report.

Another eatery, the Union Commons, was written up for a “live adult German cockroach observed walking on the floor” between two serving lines.

Packaged products from Kelly Dining are safe during the inspections. (EFAL SAYED/ THE STATESMAN)
Packaged products from Kelly Dining are safe during the inspections. (EFAL SAYED/ THE STATESMAN)

Inspectors visiting the 12 eateries found dented, bulging and leaking cans, and even hand-wash gloves stored beneath a waste line.

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At the Jasmine Food Court, it was found that cooking utensils were being kept in containers of “stagnant water.”

From faulty or missing thermometers to improper hygiene practices, the inspectors noted many unsavory details, including “grime” in a raw splintering wooden cutting board with an “uncleanable crevice” at the Jasmine Food Court and “an accumulation of grime/filth” on the basement walk-in-freezer floor at the Student Activities Center.

The  inspections on campus, which took place between November and December, found a total of  56 violations categorized as red, or “critical” items, at the 12 eateries, with 22 of them at Jasmine Grill and the SAC.

Critical violations are related to foodborne illness and are “violations that call for immediate attention,” said Grace Kelly-McGovern, spokeswoman for the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, responding to questions by email.

In many cases, the problem was solved simply by moving food into a refrigerator or by reheating it.

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Thus, at the SAC, six pounds of cooked chicken breasts with tomatoes were reheated to 165 degrees after they were found at 131 degrees for less than two hours, while the taco-bar fridge was emptied after being found at 56 degrees for approximately four hours.

The beef discarded at the Jasmine Food Court had been sitting on ice at the front counter service line at 53.2 degrees for more than two hours, according to inspectors.

Similarly, the high-end Simons Center Café had to toss entire pans of beef short ribs, trout, portobello-and-mozzarella sandwiches and ricotta cheese spread on toast points after inspectors found they had been held at unsafe temperatures.

The lack of temperature control was the most prevalent issue noted among all campus restaurants.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 3,000 people die annually from foodborne illness that stem from poor temperature controls.

Restaurants, whether on campus or off, are required to follow the guidelines set forward by the Suffolk County Sanitary Code which categorizes “potentially hazardous foods” as those that include animal foods either raw or cooked, vegetables or food that consists of raw seed sprouts, cut melons and garlic-in-oil mixtures.

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Also included in the list of potentially hazardous foods are broths, gravies, high-protein salads, sauces and cream-type dressings.

“The responsibility for correcting violations lies with the operators of the establishments, who are required to operate in compliance with the Sanitary Code at all times,” said Kelly-McGovern.

Kelly-McGovern added that the problems found at the campus restaurants are fairly typical of what inspectors find elsewhere in the county.

Indeed, no campus dining facility has problems deemed serious enough to warrant a listing on the county’s searchable inspection website, at http://apps.suffolkcountyny.gov/health/Restaurant/intro.html. Consumers can check the records of their favorite local eatery.

Kelly-McGovern said restaurants listed there are ones where the same problems are repeatedly found uncorrected by inspectors.

Of the 10 different eateries on the Stony Brook University campus, Jasmine Food Court, inspected in December 2012, recorded the highest number of violations overall.

Some students would rather stay ignorant of the health code violations at the dining halls.  (DAVID O'CONNOR/THE STATESMAN)
Some students would rather stay ignorant of the health code violations at the dining halls. (DAVID O’CONNOR/THE STATESMAN)

Vineet Kapoor, manager of the Jasmine Food Court, referred questions about the inspection reports to the Faculty Student Association. FSA spokeswoman Angela M. Agnello said all campus establishments have regular meetings before service hours to remind employees about the rules to maintain hygienic practices.

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“Additionally, student managers stay on the floor to observe any violations,” added Agnello.

Between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit lies what food sanitarians call the “Danger Zone,” a temperature range in which pathogens can thrive in the nutrient-rich environment.

“If you take the food and hold it for too long, that period can cause bacteria to multiply fast,” said Sarah A Klein, senior attorney for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy organization for health and nutrition related issues.

More issues were found behind the food service areas that patrons never get to see.

Jasmine Food Court had several other issues like “wet-nesting,” which is when clean pans and containers are stacked one over the other, preventing the utensils from drying completely.

Broken handheld metal strainers, and employees merely rinsing bubble-tea blender pitchers without “washing and sanitizing the utensils,” were criticized in the report. And at the SAC, “Liquid was noted to be leaking from the basin drain line and the faucet.” inspectors noted.

Cockroaches, unappetizing as they may be, are usually not an immediate threat to human health.

Evidence of roach infestation was noted at the Union Commons, and those findings were classed among the blue, or “maintenance” issues that must be addressed within a certain time frame, reports show.

Agnello said the university works to reduce unsafe conditions at its eateries by requesting periodical reports from managers on any issues or needs.

Also, Agnello said, the county has made its Food Service Manager safety course available online, and the university already has enrolled the first 30 student staff members training for the Roth Regatta Café.

The trainees will need to take a final examination to be awarded a certificate.

“We expect our dining facilities to adhere to established health regulations every day,” Agnello said.

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According to the health department, inspections are always unannounced.

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After every inspection, an eatery is given time to correct the violations.

By law, the most recent inspection reports are required to be displayed or produced upon request for any patron who requests to see them.

Shown the inspection reports, students, faculty and staff were divided in their opinion.

Some students said they have limited choices on campus, so the reports wouldn’t affect where they ate.

“I am not too surprised,” Chris Samuel, a senior computer science major who frequents the SAC, said. “But I don’t know if it’s different from McDonalds.”

Other students, like Amit Bapat and Mable Chu, who prefer the Jasmine Food Court, said they would rather stay ignorant of the inspection reports.

“I feel like sometimes it’s better left unsaid,” Chu said.

Steve Suh, a junior majoring in economics, said the inspection report does not impact his decision to eat at the SAC.

“If I see a mouse, maybe it will change my mind, but I am a guy and I really don’t mind,” he said.

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