February 24, 2004

B-J dining hall re-opened after failing second inspection

About 500 students were left without their dining hall for the weekend when the Burton-Judson (B-J) Dining Commons failed a re-inspection by the health department officials who found mouse feces and carcasses on glue traps in the kitchen.

The dining hall re-opened for lunch Monday after passing an examination in the morning, with burgers sizzling, soups steaming, and the ice-cream station moved back to its traditional location at a booth along the back wall.

The Chicago Department of Public Health was upset that a representative of Aramark confirmed Friday that the kitchen had been cleaned. "It really baffles us when people come down and sign the affidavit asking ‘please re-inspect us,' and the kitchen is not clean," said health department spokesman Tim Hadac.

The affidavit was likely signed by Aramark employees, Hadac said, adding that although the affidavit is a legal document, there can be no recriminations for the false witness. "You get into issues of intent to deceive," he said.

There was some confusion about who is responsible for the food service. "We go with whoever's name is on the license. It's really Aramark's responsibility," Hadac said.

Marcelle Taylor, catering director for Aramark, referred all questions to Cheryl Gutman, deputy dean of housing and dining services, when asked if he was aware of this responsibility.

"He doesn't know what he's talking about," Gutman said when asked about Hadac's appraisal of who was in charge. "The license says the University of Chicago. I know that because I get copies of all the licenses. We contract out the food service to Aramark, but we hold the license."

The division of responsibility in the food service areas resembles that of the residence halls. Aramark is responsible for using the kitchen to execute a contract in the same way that students are expected to appropriately use their own rooms. If a tool of that production breaks, such as a refrigerator or desk, the University will replace it. Aramark is responsible for day-to-day production, such as keeping rodent feces swept off the floor, in the same way that students must clean the beer cans off their desks so they can study.

At the same time, the University is responsible for possible cracks in the walls that may have allowed mice to sneak into the kitchen.

Gutman said that Housing and Dining Services were considering a special meal in B-J to thank people for their patience. "We know that people have been displaced and we want them to know we appreciate that they were patient," she said.

The department may also sponsor study breaks in affected houses.

The health department first inspected the B-J dining hall on Wednesday after receiving a call from the Student Care Center about a rash of gastrointestinal illness among B-J residents.

The illness was unrelated to food, according to the city epidemiologist that the University asked to investigate the outbreak. The students were infected with the Noro Virus, which is mainly found on cruise ships. The virus is spread through food, water, and close contact.

Similar breakouts have occurred at universities around the country, including the University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Hadac said that there is no further penalty for a second failed inspection. "The penalty is that you stay down, and you don't have the privilege of using your business license," he said. "Obviously, there is also the embarrassment of having everyone know you failed again."

Although Gutman considered looking into maintaining a food safety sanitation consultant to supplement the city's services, she said this will not happen. Instead, the University's Office and Safety and Environmental Affairs will have its own officers trained in food inspection. This way, the University can keep the inspections in-house.

Alex Meyer is a second-year in the College and a resident of Fishbein House, which has its table at the B-J dining hall. He said that there was always something wrong with the food at B-J.

"That is why I switched to the Bartlett plan this year," he said. "I'm glad to know I was right."

Fellow Fishbein resident and second-year in the College Dinesh Sabu ate at Pierce on Sunday instead of B-J. "It was a refreshing change of atmosphere," Sabu said. "Also, the people at Pierce seem better looking. Pierce was also much more convenient because it was only a five-minute walk from the Reg."