Update: In the time since this story was published, the Gastronome has been re-inspected and has received a score of 95, which is an “A” grade.
A “D” grade is something a student never wants to see in the classroom or at the restaurants he or she dines in.
The Gastronome, which provides the main source of food for around 2000 students living on campus, has had a low “D” grade, just three points from failure, since March 2013.
Larry Martin, interim director of Housing and Residence Life, said the establishment is working for a higher grade.
Located among on-campus student housing, the Gastronome is a buffet-style restaurant that serves a variety of food. The facility has been open for three years, and every student living on campus is required to buy a meal plan for the restaurant.
The Gastronome is managed by Aramark, a catering company based in Philadelphia that manages more than 600 campus dining facilities across North America. However, the facility is inspected by CSUF.
Restaurants on campus are routinely inspected once per semester and graded using a scale of “A” to “F.” Orange County allows CSUF to inspect their own facilities using the guidelines from the California Retail Food Code.
This year, the Gastronome had two inspections from environmental health officer Justine Baldacci in March and again in July, giving them 72 points each time. That grade on the California Retail Food Code rating scale is considered a low “D.”
The point system is as follows: 93-100 A, 85-92 B, 78-84 C, 70-77 D, 0-69 F. Three fewer points would have made it a failing grade.
Both of the Gastronome’s “D” rated inspections shared seven of the same minor violations.
The California Retail Food Code states that potentially hazardous food shall be maintained at or above 135 degrees Fahrenheit or at or below 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
Improper hot and cold holding temperatures for storing food, lack of of hot water for sanitation, and inadequate hand washing facilities are just some of the minor violations against the restaurant that had were observed in both inspections.
Garden burgers, sausage, cream cheese, pasta and beans temperatures were also recurring violations that posed as minor but are considered to be in the danger zone.
The sausage that was considered a minor violation was held at 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Previously in September 2012, the facility received an “A” grade, but that has since dropped.
According to the California Retail Food Code, a minor violation does not pose an imminent health hazard, but it does warrant correction.
A major violation poses an imminent health hazard and warrants immediate closure or other corrective action.
Potentially hazardous foods held between 50 degrees Fahrenheit and 130 degrees Fahrenheit without any other intervention are considered a major violation. Most potentially hazardous foods should be held at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below or 135 degrees Fahrenheit and above.
All of the temperature violations from the Gastronome were only considered minor violations.
Baldacci said during the July inspection report the sausage was found to be held below the acceptable hot holding temperature of 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
Baldacci said the reason the sausages were classified as a minor violation was because the sausages met the operational requirements of using time as public health control (TPCH). However, according to the contract between Aramark and CSUF “hot foods are to be served hot (above 145 degrees Fahrenheit).”
Although the Gastronome has not viewed minor violations as seriously as major violations, they can lead to health issues, especially when multiple minor violations compound into a “D” grade.
All restaurant inspections are required to be random at CSUF, according to CSUF’s Environmental Health and Safety code.
The inspection will not occur on the exact day that is listed on the website but any day after that is fair game; the Gastronome is aware of this.
This is not the exact way the code states inspections should be done, but according to Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America, it is not a major problem.
Waldrop said there is a general approach to major and minor violations and how they’re distinguished. Major violations are considered to be an immediate threat to public health, and minor violations aren’t considered immediate problems. Waldrop said minor violations are still considered necessary to address.
Waldrop clarified the difference between major and minor violations, citing the misunderstanding of both labels while acknowledging that minor violations are a big deal.
“I would say that’s a misunderstanding of what the major and minor violations mean and a misunderstanding of what is necessary to be able to prepare food safely for your customers,” Waldrop said. “Minor violations need to be addressed just like major violations do, and if they are recurring then that’s a bigger problem and that seems to be the case here.”
Temperature of the sanitation water has been a particular factor in the Gastronome’s low inspection grades. The sanitation water was inadequate because the solution was not high enough in concentration, and the solution was replaced with a new solution.
Waldrop emphasized how important it is for the temperature to be hot enough so anything that needs to be cleaned can be done efficiently.
“It’s not something that you can just ignore and let continue just because it’s marked as a minor violation,” Waldrop said.
Ben Kelly, the food service director of the Gastronome, is employed by Aramark. Due to “strict channels” of how Aramark allows its employees to communicate with the press, Kelly was unavailable for comment.
Kelly instead assigned Martin to discuss the Gastronome’s “D” grade.
Martin has been a CSUF employee for over 13 years, but became interim director of housing and residence life in May of this year.
After initially receiving higher grades, the restaurant’s ratings significantly decreased within the last year. Martin said part of the reason why the Gastronome received low grades is because the facility is new.
Some of the issues the Gastronome has faced have come about after it opened, Martin said. Now that the restaurant is in use, issues have arisen that CSUF is working to correct.
Martin said many of the issues during the inspection had to do with the facilities that were being provided to Aramark, which is CSUF’s responsibility to maintain.
“The goal is to improve,” Martin said. “They run the dining but it’s our facilities.”
The Gastronome has never been fined for poor grades, but Aramark does have incentives to improve their inspection scores.
“They have that incentive that they are a contracted vendor and they have our contract for a period of time and then that contract can change,” Martin said. “It’s important for the health and the duration of their contract to be the best vendor possible running our facility.”
Martin said the Gastronome is a safe establishment for diners, adding that he eats there every day.
“We meet the requirements and it’s safe,” Martin said. “The most important part is that we’re in compliance, I think if we were out of compliance there would be consequences.”
As for the “D” rating, Martin compared student grading scales at CSUF to the grades the restaurant received during its inspection.
“In actuality, based on percentages the scores were in the 70s, so technically if you letter grade as a student really they were Cs, so I’m not sure how the ‘D’ rating happens because technically the percentages typically would be a ‘C’ rating,” he said.
Martin said he is confident the grade will be rectified because a majority of the issues have been addressed.
In wake of the Gastronome’s “D” rating, CSUF students have become aware of the hazards that stem from eating at the restaurant.
Anthony Price, a 20-year-old business major, said he pays to have a meal plan and is disappointed in the Gastronome’s “D” rating.
“I haven’t gotten sick yet and I don’t really have a choice right now (to eat anywhere else),” he said. “I’m probably going to start cooking more.”
KateLynn Davenport, 20, an art and communications major, said she had a meal plan at the Gastronome the first year it opened and became sick multiple times after eating there.
Davenport said she became severely sick after eating waffles at the Gastronome. The waffles were made from batter she believes had been left out all day. She had eaten the Gastronome’s waffles several times before during the day and never got sick; however, that day was the first time she ate them at night.
“I got really sick,” Davenport said. She said she was “throwing up really bad” through the next day. “I never ate the waffles again.”
Davenport said she never made an official complaint to the Gastronome, but saw several students write complaints on the Gastronome’s “Napkin Talk Board” which is a place students can write comments about the restaurant.
“They never really seemed to take it seriously; they would write a message back like ‘thanks,’ but then whatever they had said I would never see it implemente; the change was never made,” Davenport said.
The Gastronome’s next inspection is scheduled to take place any time. Martin said the inspection had not occurred at the time this article went to print.