Hampton Leads Neighboring Schools in Cafeteria Violations PDF Print E-mail
Written by Daarel Burnette II - Black College Wire   
Thursday, 15 April 2004
Photo credit: Hampton Script
Among area four-year institutions, Hampton Universityxb4s cafeteria has accumulated the most health code violations over the past three years.

Hampton University's student cafeteria has received more health code violations during the past three years than any other four-year college in its part of Virginia, a Hampton Script analysis of health inspection reports has found.

The cafeteria has accumulated 261 violations in 17 inspections since January 2001 -- 103 more than any of the six other institutions in the region during the same time period, records show. It has been cited for cockroaches crawling in cooking areas, moldy fruit and fungus buildup on soda nozzles.


Faculty Dining Hall Also Cited

The school with the next highest number of violations is the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, with 158 violations.

William and Mary has two kitchens, compared to Hampton's one.

Records were also examined at Old Dominion University and Norfolk State University in Norfolk; Christopher Newport University in Newport News; and Virginia Wesleyan College and Regent University in Virginia Beach.

In September, city officials threatened to shut down the student cafeteria during a well-publicized controversy in which university officials pledged to parents, students and alumni that they would quickly institute new worker-training and maintenance programs along with periodic self-inspections.

While those changes have been implemented, the Script found that since September, the cafeteria's rate of "critical" violations -- those that are more likely to cause food-borne illnesses -- has nearly doubled.

Between January 2001 and September 2003, more than 15 percent of Hampton's violations were deemed critical. Since then, five of 20 violations -- or 25 percent -- were critical.

If Hampton's cafeteria had received just two more minor violations during its most recent inspection -- if paint were peeling on a shelf or a chef was using a worn spatula -- city officials said they would have been forced to shut it down.

Should Hampton receive before June 19 another unsatisfactory inspection, commonly referred to as a failed inspection, health officials say they will be forced to snatch the university's operating permit. It was unclear how many inspections the Hampton cafeteria will undergo before then.

Hampton's cafeteria -- which for the past 19 years has been managed by Gourmet Services, Inc., a private Atlanta-based food service contractor -- has failed two inspections during the last year, the maximum number allowed under city health code regulations within that time frame. It also failed in June 2002, records show.

Hampton officials would not say whether they have a backup plan to feed the more than 3,400 students who subscribe to the meal plan should the cafeteria fail before June 19.

Doretha Spells, the vice president for business affairs and Hampton's treasurer, said only that the university isn't "going into the inspections to fail."

After being presented the results of the Script's analysis, JoAnn Haysbert, the university's acting president and provost, said it was clear that more improvements need to be made.

"Were things being implemented effectively? Obviously not," she said, referring to the cafeteria's condition since September. "We'll have to look at what happened as to why. My expectations are not any different" than those of the city's health department, she said.

John Schellenberg, environmental health chief for the Hampton Health District, said some of the cafeteria's violations resulted from the age of the facility, which was built 130 years ago.

The cafeteria sits on the first floor of Virginia Cleveland Hall, the largest and oldest women's dorm on campus. It comprises two dining areas, which are fed by the same kitchen. The cracked hospital-blue walls and low lighting in the kitchen are among violations cited by health inspectors. Sewer pipes run through the basement room where food is stored.

Despite the building's condition, Schellenberg stressed that a majority of the cafeteria's problems stemmed from poor training of employees.

"The unfortunate part is the fact that the violations that were found (could have been) easily avoided had there been proper supervision in place and training of the employees," the environmental health chief said in an interview with the Script in October.

University and city health officials said there had been no reports of students becoming sick after eating in the Hampton cafeteria.

Charles Wooding, the director of auxiliary services and assistant vice-president for business affairs, who oversees the cafeteria operations, said he makes regular trips to the infirmary to see whether any students have reported becoming ill after eating there.

"There has never been an issue about the quality of the food," Wooding said. "I have not received any complaints about people being ill."

Last September, a local television station reported that the university failed its second inspection since June. How the station found out about the inspection was not made public, but some university officials, including Wooding, say they believe a "disgruntled student" tipped them off.

Records show the university received 30 violations during the September inspection, seven of which were critical.

The violations included having meat not being adequately cooled, perishable foods without expiration dates marked on their containers and roaches crawling in strainers and drip trays in the kitchen.

It was at least the ninth time that health officials spotted roaches in the kitchen since January 2001, records show.

The city gave the university a little over a month to correct the violations. According to Hampton officials, employees worked around the clock to repaint walls, replace cracked tiles and scrub floors. Gourmet Services revamped its employee training program and began a system of self-inspections. It also brought in a new exterminating service.

Haysbert said that one morning before city officials returned, she stayed in the cafeteria until 2 a.m. inspecting the dining hall herself.

On Oct. 16, city health inspectors came back and found just four minor violations. The only critical violation was a failure to keep shrimp and pasta salads cool enough. Hampton passed.

In a memo to parents, students and alumni after the inspection, Haysbert announced the changes in how the cafeteria would be run, and said that Gourmet Services assured the university that these steps would prevent future failed inspections.

She also criticized the news media, questioning why they had chosen to "single out" Hampton, when other universities had received violations as well.

Haysbert said more recently that she believed the media should have examined the inspections of other universities, not just Hampton's, out of fairness.

"All food vendors that operate in the Commonwealth of Virginia must undergo inspections," Haysbert said. "They all have violations. I don't know of any that have gone without violations, but the only one I know that had been singled out by the media and the Script was Hampton."

In a November interview, after the school passed its inspection, Valerie Goldston, senior vice-president of Gourmet Services, also said that the news media overreacted to September's failed inspection.

"What happened at Hampton University's campus happens everywhere," Goldston said. "Students just don't go tell the world. It was blown out of proportion. We need to put forth and build each other up."

In an effort to see whether other universities accumulate violations as Hampton does, and because of the near-closing of the cafeteria, the Script spent five months examining every documented health inspection during the last three years of all other four-year colleges in the Hampton Roads area.

The inspection records are held by the health departments of each city where the colleges are located.

The colleges' inspection reports, including the numbers and types of violations, were examined and analyzed, then double-checked by separate Script staff members to ensure accuracy.

The reports show that in addition to having the highest total number violations, Hampton has accumulated 40 "critical" violations during the last three years -- the highest number of any other college in Hampton Roads for which the numbers were noted.

Norfolk health officials did not differentiate between critical and non-critical violations in their reports on Old Dominion University and Norfolk State University.

Hampton averaged the highest number of violations per inspection, at roughly 15, for each of its inspections since January 2001.

Across the bay, Norfolk State received the next-highest average violations per inspection, with 13.6. It had a total of 136 violations in 10 inspections.

Christopher Newport University in Newport News had the lowest overall number of violations, 55, and the lowest average number of violations per inspection, at roughly four.

Virginia Beach's city health records show that Virginia Wesleyan received the fewest number of critical violations of any college in the region during the last three years: one.

Alvin Branch, a Gourmet Services vice-president who effectively serves as the cafeteria manager at Hampton, said that one reason the university had received so many violations was that Hampton city officials have "a high grading level."

In addition, he questioned whether city health officials are more stringent with the university than other restaurants.

"I don't know if they grade everyone else the same as us," he said.

Schellenberg, the city's top health inspector, said his inspectors grade all food establishments in the city the same.

"Each one of my inspectors has over 100 food (establishments)," he said. "Less than 5 percent of them get one (failed inspection) within a year's time."

Hampton has had two, last June and September.

Branch, the cafeteria manager, acknowledged Schellenberg's claim that there had been inadequate training of employees. But he said those problems existed before September's failed inspection.

"With our program, initially, there's a rapid turnover rate, which is a problem with the whole industry," Branch said in February.

Each year, the cafeteria loses 40 percent of its workers because Gourmet Services cannot afford to keep a full staff over the summer when few students are on campus, he said.

"We weren't going through the expensive training we needed to go through," Branch said. "Before, we took bodies, hired them and gave them uniforms."

Now, he said, workers must go through a seven-video training program and a written food service test before they are given a uniform or able to serve on the floor.

Gourmet Services has also begun sending managers to certification classes so they can train the new employees, Branch said.

Other universities have gone a step further.

At Christopher Newport University, which has the fewest number of violations, cafeteria employees are given salary bonuses and benefits, and odd jobs around the university during the summer, according to operation manager and chef Barry Whitehead.

The University of Connecticut provides workers and managers with bonuses for having the cleanest areas or hardest-working staff, according to David Schmidt, the school's cafeteria coordinator and an expert in cafeteria sanitation for the National Association of College and University Food Services.

Branch and other officials from Gourmet Services also say the building's condition plays a much larger role in the violations than Schellenberg and university officials believe.

"(Hampton University) has outgrown the existing facility," said Kim Goldston-Martin, senior vice president of corporate development. "We've been asking (to get) out of that building for a while."

Added Branch: "We do the best job we can do under the operation of this building."

Spells, the university treasurer, said Hampton has no plans to build a new cafeteria.

"The current cafeteria satisfies the university's needs," she said. Spells later added that the university would consider making renovations to the existing facility, but Goldston-Martin said that would not be enough.

"On your best day, the capacity isn't there to take it to the next level," she said.

Gourmet Services, which is based in Atlanta, was founded in 1975. The black-owned catering service began contracting with Hampton in 1985. Hampton is the largest school the company caters for, according to Goldston-Martin.

Other schools that have contracts with Gourmet Services have had similar problems concerning sanitation.

In November of 2002, the cafeteria at Miles College, a historically black college in Alabama, received a score of 56 out of 100 on a September health inspection report, according to an Alabama television station. The school ended up replacing the manager.

In Atlanta, Morehouse College ended its contract with Gourmet Services last summer after "growing dissatisfaction, combined with inconsistencies with the customer service initiative," according to The Maroon Tiger, the college's student paper.

Throughout its 19-year relationship with Hampton, the company has given scholarships for students and made other donations. In 1999, the company pledged $1 million to Hampton's capital campaign.

Haysbert said that the numerous violations under the company's watch at Hampton concern her, despite the long-standing relationship.

"We're not married to Gourmet Services," said Haysbert, who steps down as acting president at the end of this school year. "In order to continue the relationship with Hampton University, [Gourmet Services] has to do what is expected of a food service vendor. When they fail to do that, rest assured we will sever ties."

Other Hampton officials, who will continue to oversee the university's business affairs after Haysbert returns to her post as academic Provost, maintain that Gourmet Services is still at the top of their list.

"(Gourmet Services) is able to handle the demand of the students, and they provide full, nutritious meals," Spells said.

Said Wooding: "All of these violations have been deemed correctable. Violations are violations. That doesn't mean that they're a bad company."

Daarel Burnette II, a student at Hampton University, is campus editor of The Hampton Script.

Posted April 16, 2004

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