Health inspections are a critical part of any food-service based business, and for Sodexho’s UT branch, the word “critical” has been an all-too-common word.
In recent years, the number of “critical” health violations at UT’s Dining Services has skyrocketed in comparison to previous reports. In November 2005 and in May 2006, the Florida State Health Commission inspected on-campus dining and found two critical violations in each year including, toxic material storage, sanitation facilities, fire hazards and unpackaged food.
However, these transgressions pale in comparison to the findings of an inspection on Jan. 29, 2007, in which 10 critical violations were issued. Another inspection June 11 revealed 9 critical violations. The repeated violations include soil buildup in ice bins, hand washing sinks that were inaccessible at times, food switched into unlabeled containers, missing ceiling tiles and improper use of food containers.
Sodexho Safety Coordinator Contradicts Boss, Denies State Records
Despite numerous state records to the contrary, Sharon Pruginic, herself a certified health inspector, said, “In the three years that I’ve been here, we’ve never gotten a critical mark.”
Pruginic, a safety coordinator for Dining Services, runs the cafeteria as well as Dining Services’ in-house health inspections. When Sodexho and county inspectors grade vendors, Pruginic said she walks with the inspector to note violations; however, she does not recall having an inspector come June 11. She claims a local county health inspector could not locate a Jan. 29 or June 11 health inspection.
However, Pruginic’s claim was contradicted by her boss. Amy Truong, general manager of Dining Services, acknowledged the failed inspections, speculating that the failed inspections may have been caused by the “training [of] new people” in June. When asked about nine recent violations, Truong said, “I am aware that they have been fixed.”
Pruginic, however, was insistent.
“If we had that many critical violations, the inspector would have come back within three days,” she explained. If a venue is faced with too many critical violations, it is forced to shut down until conditions become appropriate for public use.
“All employees that handle food have to be certified,” Pruginic said. The certification process is a two-hour class that teaches workers about proper sanitation, safety, and packaging procedures. Pruginic certifies Sodexho employees every three years.
Managers and supervisors do in-house checks and give the reports to Pruginic, who double checks for questionable violation scores. After she double checks the venues, she notifies each department of any corrections made to the health inspections.
“Under Florida law, the only one that inspects us is the county,” she explained. The Minaret, however, obtained inspections from state records. County health inspections are done randomly throughout each year, she said. The inspections done in 2007 thus far were on Feb. 20, May 21, and Aug. 8. County reports note whether the food venue is satisfactory, incomplete, or unsatisfactory.
“There are no in-between answers, either you can operate, or you can’t,” Pruginic said. All three county inspections found no critical violations, but contributed minor observations.
According to officials, state inspectors randomly show up to check for problems with food preparation, sanitation and procedural actions. Once their report is given to Dining Services, the problems are fixed. Monthly inspections are also done by Dining Services managers and supervisors. As recently as June 12, 2007, an in-house inspection scored the cafeteria of having a 95 percent rating out of 100. These inspections are similar to those performed by state officials. Among many criteria, Sodexho checks for personal hygiene and cooking temperatures.
Besides in-house and state inspections, Sodexho corporate inspectors come unannounced. The last inspection run by Sodexho was done in April.
Dining Services has more on their plate this year with the addition of 85 workers. This surge of employees was done to support the new dining in Stadium Center. Sodexho currently has 250 employees on campus.
Certification is another important process. Every year Sodexho’s catering service, which provides for all on-campus events, is renewed. If not accomplished, catering privileges will be terminated until renewal.
Comparison to Other Local Restaurants
While the number of critical violations UT received is alarming, a few local restaurants have managed to rack up even more health infractions.
Crazy Buffet on Dale Mabry, for example, has a favorable reputation among students, but according to recent health inspections, the eatery is in dire need of spring cleaning.
Not only did Crazy Buffet have 25 critical violations May 25, but it was observed again the next day and received seven more health violations. Serious food violations included cold food stored at 47 degrees instead of the proper 41 degrees, an unlabeled date on an open container of milk, food stored on the floor and oysters in the freezer, employees handling raw meat without washing their hands, slime in the ice machines and food on “clean” utensils and dishware.
The Golden Corral on Hillsborough Avenue had no violations in their most resent inspection in May of 2007, a major improvement from the seven critical violations in April and the 22 it received this past March. Among the March violations were two involving ready-to-eat, potentially hazardous food improperly stored, temperature violations, and non-ready-to-eat food handled by employees without proper hand-covering or utensils. They were issued a warning for March’s inspection.
Journalism students contributed to this report.
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