When ASMSU College of Business Representative Kyle Clifton came to an ASMSU General Assembly meeting last month, he brought a soiled spoon.
The spoon was caked with dried red sauce, something Clifton had not noticed when he picked it up entering the Shaw Hall cafeteria one day. It had been nestled in with other spoons that had been through the dishwasher, but the sauce remained stuck, he said.
Passing the spoon around the table, he told the assembly he wanted to address other unsanitary practices he has noticed in MSU dining facilities, including employees not wearing clean gloves or checking the temperatures of meats.
During the Jan. 26 meeting, ASMSU — MSU’s undergraduate student government — passed a bill introduced by Clifton focusing on such issues, voting to discuss the group’s concerns with Culinary Services directors later this semester.
Associate Director of Residential Dining Bruce Haskell said he receives comments from students on occasion and did not question the validity of the claims ASMSU noted, but said it is hard to address past concerns that go unreported.
“We will take whatever steps necessary to fix it,” he said. “Are we going to fix it each and every time without fail? Probably not. The reality is some things (still) are going to happen.”
All food services employees at MSU are required to undergo a training program before employment, and Haskell said regardless of when students are hired, they must go through both group and site-specific instruction. Still, the high turnover of student employees sometimes makes it difficult to maintain the same work quality, he said.
Environmental economics and policy sophomore Ellen Hendrickson works in the cafeteria in Shaw Hall delivering food from the kitchen to the serving lines. Before beginning work, she watched several informational videos but received only a quick run-through of her individual duties.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” she said. “It was all really on the spot.”
Haskell said some of the concerns ASMSU has with the cafeterias can be traced back to unintentionally rushed training.
But Haskell said the cafeterias are inspected regularly by the university sanitation services, as well as the Ingham County Health Department, to prevent infractions from occurring.
MSU Sanitarian Betty Wernette-Babian said campus cafeterias are inspected once every six months, unless additional sanitation problems arise that require further examination.
In 2011, MSU cafeterias were cited with a total of 132 violations from the Ingham County Health Department, ranging from accumulation of debris in coolers to food stored at improper temperatures. Brody Complex Cafeteria had the most violations at 41, and Akers Hall cafeteria had the fewest at 3.
Whether a cafeteria requires an additional inspection depends on the circumstances, including if the facility’s managers are actively working to improve upon the violations, Wernette-Babian said. If the management did nothing toward improving the problem, they might fail the additional inspection and be given a fine, she said.
A sizeable serving
A section of the ASMSU bill suggested one of the shortcomings of cafeteria sanitation is the “blatant disregard” of procedures, a statement Haskell disputed.
“People have to understand the scope of what we do,” he said. “Our efforts are to the positive end, and when something negative occurs or something inappropriate occurs, we need to be made aware of it so we can deal with it immediately.”
Clifton said nothing can change the behavior of employees who might not enjoy their job, but something should be done to ensure employees are observing proper protocol — which Haskell said is a part of employee training.
But the size of MSU Culinary Services makes it difficult to monitor every employee’s behavior, and the employees as a whole make up a great student workforce, he said. MSU cafeterias serve about 30,000 meals a day and employ about 3,000 students, he said.
Haskell recognized some people have personalities better-suited toward food services — outgoing servers interacting with students with a smile, for example. Other employees might have less experience interacting with patrons and still need to learn how to create a positive atmosphere, he said.
“Therein lies our challenge, to constantly work with staff and train and develop these people,” he said.
Hendrickson said the atmosphere in the cafeteria is laid-back, and there are some employees who care more about protocol than others.
“If you touch your own shirt, you’re supposed to switch gloves,” Hendrickson said. “Some supervisors will mention it, and some will forget about that.”
Mathematics senior Andrew Bailey, who is a student supervisor in the Gallery at Snyder and Phillips halls, said he encourages communication with his co-workers, who are very proactive in asking questions.
But Bailey said not all students are as eager to approach supervisors with their concerns as his own co-workers are.
During a lunch shift on Tuesday, Bailey said more than a dozen patrons saw a coffee machine slowly overflow but said nothing until it had made a mess around the machine. It was only when an employee happened to come by that it was reported to Bailey.
Bailey was unsure why no students said anything to a supervisor but compared the lack of response to the unlikeliness of students picking up garbage across campus.
“Everyone thinks it’s someone else’s job,” he said.
A few years ago, a student group expressed similar concerns as those stated in the current ASMSU bill with cafeteria sanitation, but no one ever followed up with Culinary Services directors to determine a solution, Haskell said.
He also said he was disappointed he had not yet heard about the bill from ASMSU members.
Clifton said he wants ASMSU representatives to meet with Culinary Services directors before determining a potential solution to how such sanitation problems can be prevented. But he did suggest cafeteria employees undergo an additional training session to review proper sanitation procedure.
Haskell said he already has sent memos out to cafeteria managers about ASMSU’s concerns, asking them to review their sanitation policies with their employees — especially with the concerns about hand washing or cross contamination mentioned in ASMSU’s bill.
“It’s something we have to place a high level of awareness on,” he said. “This will be the catalyst to take the steps to create that heightened awareness.”