February 2, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 32°F


Ithaca restaurants commit critical health violations

Despite a number of violations last academic year, Ithaca College Dining Services has shown improvement, while many local Ithaca restaurants have committed critical violations with the Tompkins County Health Department.

According to Food Service Establishment Reports released by the health department, Ithaca College Dining Services only committed one critical violation this fall at the recently created Gannett Coffee Kiosk. During the 2013–14 school year, there were four critical violations, one at each of the four major dining areas on campus: Towers Dining Hall, Campus Center Dining Hall, Terrace Dining Hall and IC Square.

In September 2014, the Gannett Coffee Kiosk received a critical violation notice for potentially hazardous foods not stored under refrigeration.

In the Town of Ithaca, on the other hand, there were a total of 209 venues were inspected during the time period ranging from the start of the school year Aug. 25, 2014, to Dec. 29, 2014, including restaurants, schools and Cornell University. Of these 209 venues, 42, or 20.1 percent, received critical violations while 58 venues, or 27.8 percent, received noncritical violations.

Kristee Morgan, public health sanitarian for the Tompkins County Health Department, said violations classified as noncritical are violations not directly tied to food–borne illness and do not require reinspection.

Restaurants that have committed critical violations include Waffle Frolic, Agava and Moosewood, which attract student traffic.

However, Morgan said consumers should not be worried to eat at restaurants that have received violations because violations are addressed immediately after being pointed out by the inspector.

“There are a lot of things that could go wrong,” she said. “The best establishments on any given day could have an issue.”

Morgan said on average one out of every three restaurants receives a violation, and the number of violations has remained stable over time.

In November 2014, Waffle Frolic received two noncritical violations and two critical violations. The two noncritical violations were improper use and storage of clean, sanitized equipment and utensils, and not protecting food during storage, preparation, display, transportation and service from potential sources of contamination. The two critical violations were instances of improperly labeling, storing or using toxic chemicals possibly leading to contamination of food.

Waffle Frolic only had one other previous critical violation in three years, in June 2013, for not having enough storage space to properly store food below 45 degrees during cold holding.

Alexis Randall, owner of Waffle Frolic, said she sees the value in the thoroughness of the inspections.

“I dont feel like this is any sort of representation of how clean our establishment is, it was just these very particular technicalities,” she said. “But I’d rather have them [health inspectors] be more intense than less because I’ve seen some kitchens that are really disgusting, and that’s disappointing. If we have to set the bar really high, that’s not a problem with me.”

Randall said the violations were for leaving an ice scoop in the ice, leaving boxes of food on the ground while transporting them inside and storing a bottle of advil and a bottle of WD40 on the wrong shelf.

Randall said the results of the inspection reports often depend on the inspector and the time of week they inspect.

“I don’t disagree with any of these rules, but a lot of times it’s luck of the draw with when they are going to walk in the door,” she said. “To me, it’s more important to make sure things are staying at the right temperature instead of things being on the floor for a few minutes while we’re organizing.”

Jeff Scott, general manager of dining services, said he believes Ithaca College Dining Services has improved over time.

“I do think we are getting better,” Scott said. “It’s a focal point every day to ensure our facilities meet health code and meet company policy from a food safety standpoint.”

Morgan said Ithaca College Dining Services has a good record with health inspections.

“I’ve been at the health department 10 years, and they’ve always done very well with their health inspections,” she said. “There’s definitely been issues along the way, there’s been violations here and there, but they’ve always been corrected, and there haven’t been many.”

In September 2013, the IC Square received a critical violation for not having enough refrigerated storage maintained and operational so that all potentially hazardous foods are stored below 45 degrees. Also in September 2013, Towers Dining Hall received a critical violation for not keeping potentially hazardous foods at or below 45 degrees during cold holding. In April 2014, Terrace Dining Hall received a critical violation for not having enough refrigerated storage, and Campus Center received a critical violation for not keeping food below 45 degrees during cold holding.

Scott said most of the violations the college has received in the past were related to keeping food below the required temperature of 45 degrees for cold food and above the temperature of 149 degrees for hot food.

“Where we’ve had a problem in the past has been a few degrees of temperature issues,” he said. “It’s never typically sanitation, it’s never typically work practice or hygiene and it’s almost never equipment failing.”

Scott said a cooler malfunction caused the critical violation the Gannett Coffee Kiosk this year.

“We had a cooler power off for a short amount of time,” he said. “We could have safely served the food, [but] we took corrective action, got fresh product in, did not serve any of the product under question and got the cooler fixed.”

Scott said though he thinks the Food Service Establishment Inspection Reports do not offer a holistic view of the safety of on-campus food establishments, inspections are important to make sure consumers can continue to trust the establishments they visit.

“It only reads in the report as one statement, it doesn’t say one item out of 9,000 items [had issues], but that’s OK,” he said. “There’s a certain level of trust when we go to a place to eat that it’s going to be safe, so that’s one of the critical roles of the health department.”

Scott said he often contacts the health department to provide guidance to ensure the safety of food on campus.

“We also use the health department for training,” he said. “We invite them in to host classes. If there’s a change to health code or if we’re putting a new item on the menu, we’ll call them. There’s also that side to the relationship in which they almost act as a consultant if you invite them into that conversation.”

Aidan Quigley can be reached at aquigley@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @QuigleyAidan