Within the last three years, food establishments on Main Campus received 162 violations, according to City of Philadelphia food inspection reports.
Both university and non-university owned dining locations had violations in the two categories in the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s Office of Food Protection’s report: foodborne illness risk factors and public health interventions, and good retail practices.
While the violations were recorded as part of routine city inspections, they highlight the missteps regarding campus sanitation efforts which has resulted in some students being hesitant to continue using their meal plans. The violations come as the University of Pennsylvania’s dining locations received a total of 100 health code violations during their most recent inspections, the Daily Pennsylvanian reported.
The Johnson and Hardwick dining hall and the Starbucks in the Howard Gittis Student Center were tied with most violations for both sections with 24 between February 2021 to March 2023. Aramark’s convenience location in the Temple Performing Arts Center and take-out spots in the Tyler School of Art and Science Education and Research Center had the lowest with two violations.
On March 13, the Student Center Starbucks had mouse droppings observed on the floor and under a tea bag container and a storage container. At Twisted Taco, pico de gallo and cheese were held at two to four degrees warmer than needed until an employee placed the items into a walk-in box to cool during the inspection.
Among other violations, moist wiping cloths were found on food preparation areas at Johnson and Hardwick’s inspection on March 2. Morgan Hall’s kitchen also had wet floors and slight debris on March 14.
“We are proud to partner with the Department of Health to ensure a safe dining environment for the University community,” wrote Temple Culinary Services in a statement to The Temple News. “Through this partnership, we can assure that all locations are operating within the strict guidelines set forth by the organization. As part of this, any potential issue that comes to light is immediately addressed to ensure the continued safety of our guests.”
The Temple News identified the violations by searching the keywords ‘Aramark,’ Temple’s food licensee, and ‘Temple’ on the Office of Food Protection’s website. The Temple News then compiled and analyzed the data using the publicly available reports for each venue. The website also listed other non-Temple or non-Aramark facilities, like food trucks.
Reports are only posted online and the city’s database maintains the reports for three years.
Forty of Temple’s 162 violations were in the foodborne illness risk factors and public health interventions section and 122 violations were in the good retail practice standards section.
Thirty-eight were corrected on-site, while 16 were repeat violations. Some of the repeat violations ranged from not having hot water available at hand wash sinks in front of food prep areas to grime and debris accumulation in some catch basins.
“I also think it’s more important to know where your food is coming from not just the quality of the food, but the quality of the place quality, so seeing the inspections, I think it’s a good heads up into what to look for,” said Ashlynd Harvey, a sophomore media studies and production major.
If an establishment fixes a violation during an inspection, the violation is marked on the report as corrected on-site, according to the Department of Public Health.
Temple’s violations have caused Alycia Harvey and Ashlynd Harvey to use their meal plans less frequently.
“We’ve actually been eating out a little more, but sometimes it’s really not an option for us, because the only thing we have is our meal plans,” said Alycia Harvey, a sophomore media studies and production major with an unlimited meal plan. “So honestly, it doesn’t really make me feel good hearing about [violations], but it’s like I have no other option.”
First-year students or transfer students living in on-campus housing are required to purchase a minimum meal plan of 10 meals per week, according to the university’s undergraduate admissions website. The costs of meal plans range from $1,730 to $2,355 per semester.
While Briana Espino does not have a meal plan, she is still disappointed that she is paying for food at establishments that may have violations.
“This is crazy how we’re spending money out of our pockets, and to find out that there’s violations,” said Espino, a freshman on a pre-pharmacy track who frequents dining options in the Student Center or at food trucks. “We’re expecting something that’s going to be good, but we hear that there’s violations like ‘Wow, it wasn’t worth it.’”
THE INSPECTION PROCESS
The city’s goal is to inspect every food establishment annually, said Palak Raval-Nelson, deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Health.
Inspections, except for brand new establishments, are unannounced, Raval-Nelson said. Inspectors walk through establishments with a certified food safety staff member, checking the 54 categories on the inspection report.
If any category is found to be noncompliant, another inspection could be required within 30 business days, according to the Department of Public Health. The most serious violations, which are a severe vermin infestation or are imminently crucial to public health, require facilities to cease operations.
If a second inspection happens a couple days after the original, then the establishment could have been required to close and another inspection was needed to assess the risk factors, Raval-Nelson said.
Cease operation orders are lifted if the risk factors improve upon the second visit, said Dawn Kiesewetter, director of the city’s Environmental Health Services. Another inspection would then be conducted in 30 days to ensure other standards are being followed.
Establishments not in compliance with inspections are required to pay fines. If a facility is still out of compliance during a reinspection then they will have to cease operations and the city may file court action in the Common Pleas Court, Raval-Nelson said.
The city takes all violations seriously, but some risk factor violations are more likely to cause foodborne illnesses, Raval-Nelson said.
For example, in most cases bar signage that warns against drinking while pregnant generally does not rank as high as food being the wrong temperature or a lack of hot or cold running water, Raval-Nelson said.
Philadelphia’s Division of Disease Control also monitors and tracks foodborne illnesses.
HOW IT’S BEING ADDRESSED
Violations are taken seriously and are resolved quickly at locations that serve people in vulnerable communities, like universities or hospitals, said Alissa Smethers, a kinesiology professor who teaches Food Preparation and Management II.
Non-Aramark affiliated establishments said they addressed their violations quickly.
Temple’s Playa Bowls addressed the findings and violations in their report prior to their next inspection and the store’s opening, wrote Fish Consulting on the behalf of Playa Bowls in a statement to The Temple News.
“This included re-training all shop employees on our stringent operational standards and processes,” Fish Consulting wrote. “Playa Bowls maintains a commitment to the highest food safety standards.”
Saxbys believes their inspection reports represent a particular moment during the work day and that most violations can be quickly addressed. However, the company takes the violations seriously, wrote Haley Samsi, vice president of People and Cafes at Saxby’s, in a statement to The Temple News.
Saxbys had a total of 21 violations between their two Main Campus locations from August 2020 until this March. Six of those were corrected on-site and zero were repeat violations.
“In addition to inspections by the city, there are state and university standards we need to meet, as well as our own internal procedures, which include daily checklists and quarterly audits,” Samsi wrote.
Bagel Hut, which had seven violations between August 2020 and November 2021, did not respond to The Temple News’ request for comment.
“This is why we have food safety,” Raval-Nelson said. “Certified folks on site, in food establishments, they’re the certified people and they can do their own internal inspections and keep tabs on running the operation as safe as possible.”