The Tompkins County Health Department has cited two Ithaca College dining establishments for critical violations involving factors that could lead to food-related illness. Last month, The Towers Dining Hall and the IC Square Food Court were found to have potentially hazardous foods that were stored at above 45 degrees, the required maximum cold-storage temperature.
According to the Food Service Establishment Reports released to The Ithacan by the county health department, one quart of tomatoes, half a pound of feta cheese and one cup of blue cheese were found at temperatures between 48 degrees and 54 degrees in the Food Court. At the Towers Dining Hall, two pounds of grain salad were found at 51 degrees. The Food Court and the Towers Dining Hall passed the reinspections, which were conducted Oct. 4 and Oct. 10, respectively.
Kristee Morgan, public health sanitarian for the health department, said these inspections happen twice each year.
“We don’t have a persistent history of critical violations for any of the Ithaca College dining facilities,” she said. “But we have on occasion found critical violations at the dining halls.”
Ithaca Dining Services, which is operated by the French corporation Sodexo, provides an estimated 10,000 meals to students, faculty, staff and guests of the college daily. Jeffery Scott, general manager of dining services, said dining services officials respond immediately after violations are cited.
“What you have to keep in mind is there are hundreds of items being served on any given day,” he said. “We have a lot of points of contact at all of these food stations. Any time we have had a violation in the past, we have taken immediate corrective action. We have always had no issue on a follow-up inspection.”
Before last month’s inspection, the Towers Dining Hall was cited three times in the past three years. All three citations were for not maintaining foods at correct temperatures while serving hot or cold. The Food Court was cited once in the past three years.
Scott said dining services rarely receives reports of illness after eating from dining halls. He said people making these claims are required to produce medical evidence of dining hall responsibility for their condition. He also said there has never been medical evidence of food poisoning.
“When you are feeding hundreds of people a certain dish, or thousands, and if one person claims they are ill, you can’t necessarily assume that it is the food,” he said. “Maybe they already had a virus or an illness.”
Dr. Vivian Lorenzo, assistant director of the Hammond Health Center, said she is not aware of any documented cases of foodborne illness or food poisoning related to the college dining halls. She said if foodborne pathogens like salmonella or E. coli are suspected to be involved, lab tests are conducted.
“If you have a positive lab test or if there is a cluster of cases, that’s reportable to the [Tompkins County] Health Department,” Dr. Lorenzo said. “We have never had a situation like that.”
Sophomore Erica Moriarty said she has fallen ill and experienced nausea several times after eating meat-based items from the dining halls. She said her decision to move off campus next semester was influenced significantly by her experience with the dining services.
“This [happened with] such different foods, and it has been so many times that there must be something wrong with the food or how they are preparing it because you shouldn’t get sick that often,” she said.
Meanwhile, Scott said the staff at the dining halls are trained in hygiene and safe food-handling practices. Sophomore Erin Jolley works at SubConnection, which shares a kitchen with the Towers Dining Hall.
“The rules are very strict,” Jolley said. “I would say that there are times when everything is not followed to a tee by certain people … but what I have seen in both kitchens and workspaces is pretty up to par. We got to follow the rules. There are people watching.”
Scott said these health inspections provide staff with a learning experience and are a continual reminder of the room for improvement.
“These types of inspections are designed to be educational,” he said. “They are an opportunity.”