Are on-campus eateries meeting health standards?

    Have you ever hesitated before chowing down, wondering if the meal you are about to eat has been properly cooked in a clean environment? Even if you do not pay attention to the letter grade ratings that public restaurants sometimes post, you may be comforted to know that the restaurant you are dining in has been inspected and approved by a governmental health inspection agency.

    College food accommodations are often a highly controversial subject among students when they are matched against those of other universities or even a home-cooked meal. While recently circulating rumors about food poisoning have prompted talk about sanitation standards within UCSD’s many on-campus food stores and restaurants, students can rest assured that UCSD does provide only the highest quality of food and preparation environments.

    There are 35 total locations in which food can be purchased on campus, including residential life dining commons, the Student Center, the Price Center and even dispersed coffee carts. Together, these 35 facilities employ over 400 UCSD students and 200 full-time career staff, such as chefs and managers. Each facility is inspected on a regular, but surprise basis by the Torrey Pines Center Office of Environmental Health and Safety, located on Torrey Pines road adjacent to the John Muir College parking lots.

    “”Sacramento makes the rules, but each county is responsible for carrying them out and institutes different means of doing so,”” said Brian Klippel, safety and risk manager at UCSD. “”[UCSD] is like its own county; it’s an island with its own local enforcement agency for maintaining health and safety standards in on-campus restaurants.””

    Inspectors from the UCSD Environmental Health and Safety Department often appear in the restaurant they are assessing disguised as customers, without giving the restaurant’s employees prior notice that their restaurant is being evaluated. This way, the inspectors can more accurately judge the restaurant’s everyday condition, promoting consistently excellent employee performance by keeping restaurant employees on their toes so they never know exactly when they are being evaluated.

    Although customers at on-campus dining facilities are not likely to witness a grade card with the letter “”A”” on it hanging in the window, you can get a wealth of reassurance — if you ask. Orange County and San Diego County, unlike Los Angeles County, do not require that restaurants post grade cards. Since laws about publicly displaying grade cards are unique to each county, and since UCSD is like its own county within San Diego, previous campus officials disliked the sign pollution and opted not to post grade cards either.

    However, according to Klippel, this is likely to change soon. Instead of issuing rating cards, each restaurant must achieve a grade of at least 90 out of 100 to meet UCSD Environmental Health and Safety criteria. No restaurant is permitted to remain open for business once its rating has declined below a 90, so it is safe to assume that all restaurants on campus operate under conditions of “”A”” quality.

    Currently, every restaurant on campus possesses a grade of a 97 or above. Even Rubio’s Baja Grill in the Price Center has a 98.5, despite anonymous accusations and rumors of possible food poisoning during fall quarter. Student Health did run tests on three students, but minimal evidence proved inconclusive about food poisoning.

    “”Food poisoning is difficult to prove,”” Klippel said.

    Because peoples’ bodies react differently to different foods, a particular product must affect everyone who ate it, and each person has to possess similar symptoms that must occur at the same time to positively determine that food poisoning is the cause of sickness.

    Klippel further explained that “”food is either served or thrown away, and if a person claims they are sick a day later from food poisoning, it is impossible to prove either way.””

    There are allegations of food poisinging at Woks Up, which has since gone out of business and has been replaced by Panda Express this year.

    Thurgood Marshall College senior Jason Scharf remembers his encounter with Woks Up.

    “”I only ate at Woks Up three times and got sick all three times within a two-hour period, so I stopped eating there to save my stomach from future torture,”” Scharf said. There is no evidence, however, of food poisoning from either Rubio’s Baja Grill, Panda Express or any other on-campus restaurant.

    Special measures are taken, of course, to prevent food poisoning.

    “”All of our employees work extremely hard to serve safe products, and an outbreak of food poisoning would be our worst nightmare,”” Klippel said.

    All meats served anywhere on campus are cooked at the highest possible temperatures to avoid bacteria infestation. At the Grove Caffe, employees always use wax paper or tongs to pick up danishes. Although San Diego’s health codes do not require that restaurant employees wear plastic gloves when handling food, gloves are recommended by some restaurant managers, while others prefer to instead concentrate on clean hands. However, all employees are expected to directly touch food as little as possible and maintain the utmost cleanliness in kitchen environments.

    Some students are confident in UCSD health standards and know that any restaurant that is open on campus must meet certain criteria and therefore must be safe to eat at.

    “”With Price Center food, it’s not the health food rating that matters, it’s the experience and preference that determines the food I’m going to eat. It doesn’t matter if a restaurant has a 50 percent rating or a 97 percent rating, it depends on if I get sick or not,”” Scharf said.

    Above all, campus restaurant employees, supervisors and inspectors constantly look for new ways to improve upon existing food services. With the opening of Food Works near the Matthews and Pepper Canyon apartments this year, as well as another restaurant that is due to open next fall at the new Eleanor Roosevelt College site — with a possible sushi chef — UCSD has many food options to experience. Students can anticipate more take-out, more exhibition cooking and more international foods, especially Mediterranean and Asian cuisine.

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