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EXCLUSIVE: Toronto campus eateries allowed to operate despite violations

Last Updated Sep 8, 2017 at 10:15 am EDT

When teenagers head to university, they’re often warned about the so-called “Frosh 15”— the extra weight many young adults gain when their homemade dinners are replaced with beer and campus food. Perhaps they should be warned about the food-borne illnesses they could catch as well.

CityNews investigated food safety records on campuses as classes resumed for over 100,000 post-secondary students in Toronto. The results turned a few heads — and stomachs.

York University played host to not only the most dining establishments, but also the most safety violations and infractions as reported by Toronto Public Health (TPH) inspectors.

The 44 on-campus establishments CityNews investigated accounted for more than 200 violations in a two-year period, including several citations for failing “to ensure food is not contaminated,” failing to “ensure proper food safety,” failing to provide handwashing supplies or sinks for employees, and failing to “provide adequate pest control.”

Perhaps more troubling was many of the violations occurred at cafeteria-type establishments like Osgoode Hall and Glendon College cafeterias — where students may feel food quality is managed, or at least monitored by the schools.

“It’s disgusting,” a third-year York student named Jennifer said. She decided not to eat breakfast at one of the on-campus establishments after learning it had been cited for failing to properly clean its equipment and rooms.

“It’s kind of hard when we don’t have many options if we come from home. We think it’s safe,” she said.

Osgoode’s most recent inspection was last September, when it was cited for storing utensils in the restroom.

Glendon College’s cafeteria was most recently cited for failing to wash surfaces, like counters, in rooms. It has had major problems in the past, including failing to ensure food safety, and evidence of cockroaches and mice feces.

“All York University’s campus eateries were, and remain safe for the community,” York University spokeswoman Sandra McLean said in a statement.

She said York recently held a mandatory education session for all campus eateries. She said the university reserves the right to shut down restaurants that are repeatedly in violation of safe food handling practices although she added, “We have not had to take this action.”

Using Toronto Public Health’s DineSafe database, CityNews combed through over 925 inspection reports for every post-secondary campus in Toronto between 2015 and September 2017.

York’s offerings have received several “yellows” — conditional passes — which gives the establishment 48 hours to rectify “significant” or “crucial” violations, including storing potentially hazardous foods at safe temperatures. But it isn’t alone.

Every single post-secondary instruction had violations — many of the most serious ones were at cafeteria-type locations like the University of Toronto’s Howard Ferguson Dining Hall and Innis Cafe, as well as Humber College’s Residence Cafe, where mouse droppings were found on the floor.

TPH can’t shut down a restaurant for habitual violations. Repeat offenders are afforded the chance to rectify the problem, explained Associate Director Sylvanus Thompson.

“It’s based on what we find at the time of inspection,” he said. “So at the time of the inspection or re-inspection, if there are no violations we have no option than to give them a pass notice.”

However, “passes” happen all the time, even when significant violations are found. For example, George Brown College’s St. James Campus cafeteria passed despite two significant violations last January, as did York’s Sakura restaurant — for failing to prevent contamination in April — and many others.

See the full list below or click here.

“We go there, they have no soap at the sink and they can correct that while we are there,” Thompson said. “We allow them to correct that and that will result in a pass.”

He said while TPH can close a location — which it did for Wokking on Wheels at U of T’s St. George Campus — establishments can reopen as soon as they address the concern.

“If they are what we call problem properties, meaning … they keep on [offending], we have the authority to refer them to the Toronto Licensing Tribunal and the tribunal can take action,” Thompson said.

“They can revoke their license, they can put conditions on their licence. But Toronto Public Health itself has no authority to do any of that.”

Thompson couldn’t say how often the tribunal has been called to intervene with campus eateries.


Related:

CityNews Investigation: College and University eateries not making the grade