Dead crickets, dirty can openers and salads above 41 degrees have resulted in health code violations for Oklahoma State University.
OSU campus dining accumulated at least 89 state health code violations in 2015, according to Payne County Health Department records.
Of the 32 campus dining establishments, four passed inspection with no violations. The Student Union food court amassed the largest number of violations with at least 19, and the Atherton’s Rancher’s Club gathered at least 18, according to records.
Records also revealed a sample of 12 off-campus restaurants collected 192 state health code violations in 2015.
Most recurring violations at OSU dealt with temperature control and sanitation. Some of the violations included failing to provide accurate thermometers, issues with the cleaning frequency of non-food contact surfaces, not sustaining the cleanliness food contact surfaces of equipment and utensils are clean, and improperly maintaining the proper cold and hot temperatures of food.
Many of the violations were labeled as corrected during the inspection, according to the documents.
George Neurohr, a Payne County health inspector, said he shows up for unannounced visits at each university dining spot at least once or twice a year depending on the level of risk the establishment poses to the public.
Low-risk operations sell only bottled drinks and packaged food, which requires no preparation, and are inspected once a year, Neurohr said.
Medium-risk establishments, which offer cook-to-serve foods and a minimum amount of raw meat products, are supposed to be examined every six months, while high-risk restaurants encompass a more complex menu and are to be inspected every three months.
“If for some reason we have a lot of violations, we can do more inspections if we need to,” Neurohr said.
Neurohr said he adheres to the 2009 Oklahoma state health code, which includes criteria for protection from contamination, chemicals and employee health among other categories.
Alan Nahs, OSU’s food service coordinator, spends most of his time at West Side Café teaching students about food service and the rules and regulations that accompany the industry.
“(Health inspections are) a necessary evil,” Nahs said. “Nobody likes having them.”
At each inspection, Nahs follows the inspector closely, correcting any issues not compliant with code and making mental notes about what can be improved.
“He goes around and checks everything from top to bottom,” Nahs said. “Any food prep that we are working on or we have food out, he’ll make sure that it’s in the correct temperature, (and that) it’s not in the danger zone.”
In addition to food preparation and overall cleanliness, the health inspector ensures items are properly labeled and stored and confirms the kitchen equipment is functioning correctly, Nahs said.
After the inspection, a report is given to the manager. If there are substantial violations are listed, a date is agreed upon for the inspector to return for a follow-up inspection.
“If there is a major violation, they’ll be back anywhere from 72 hours to 14 days,” Nahs said. “They give you time to get it fixed, and then they come back.”
If a restaurant is found to be non-compliant in the follow-up inspection, examiners offer management one more chance to correct the issue(s) before reporting the establishment to the state health department, Neurohr said.
“For the most part, they’re in business to maintain a customer base,” Neurohr said. “And if you have people complaining about things not being done right, they’re not going to come back and eat, and they’re not going to tell their friends to come back and eat.”
Terry Baker, director of University Dining Services, said to maintain a safe operation, it’s essential for employees to receive food safety and sanitation training.
“It’s important not (only) for the people that serve the food, but the people who receive it at the dock,” Baker said. “Safety and sanitation comes from the moment the food hits the dock.”
Managers and full-time employees go through the ServSafe Food Safety Training Program sponsored by the National Restaurant Association, Baker said.
Through the program, employees learn the proper ways to handle and store food, Baker said. Those who go through the training and pass a test over the material are certified for five years, she said.
In addition, University Dining Services has a handbook for employees, including those who work part time and don’t receive the ServSafe training.
“Part of it’s the uniform code, what they wear to work and what’s required,” Baker said. “Then, they are trained on different ways of serving food, depending what the venue is and things like that.”
UDS serves more than 17,000 students each day, and Baker said students are outspoken when they have issues with campus dining. UDS receives complaints in the form of social media posts, emails and in person, she said.
“We really want to do the best that we can,” Baker said. “Are we perfect? No. But we make an effort to be as best as we can.”