By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — City College students threatened to boycott the school's cafeteria after health inspectors found evidence of mice, inadequate hand-washing facilities and five other critical violations.
The cafeteria — which includes a student dining facility, faculty cafeteria and a Starbucks — is operated by Metropolitan, a food services company contracted by the college. The facilities, located on the college's campus on Convent Avenue from 131st Street to 141st Street, received a whopping 52 points during a March 15 inspection, leading students to create a "Boycott CCNY Cafeteria" Facebook page.
"I used to go there to eat but I stopped," said Daoud Nsangou, 17, a freshman majoring in computer engineering. "I'm quite scared because I'm worried the food might make me sick."
The food facilities received a total of 10 violations. Among the other critical violations are two for not holding food at the proper temperature, one for an inadequate supply of potable water, one for failure to protect the food from contamination during storage, preparation, transportation and display, and a violation for improper use of sanitized food utensils.
The news comes after the city briefly shut down the main cafeteria at Pace University in lower Manhattan when it received a score of 79. Students there also planned a boycott.
Sahar Khan, 24, a Media Communications Arts major at City College who is executive vice president of the student government association, said students were angry at a town hall meeting last week and demanded change.
"I don't think any student who found out about the grade or violations would feel comfortable eating there. This is a safety issue. It is not good, healthy sanitized food," said Khan.
Muhammad Arshad, 22, a chemical engineering student and senator in the student government called the inspection grade "shameful." He said he has often seen unsanitary conditions in the cafeteria such as the mixing of utensils used for vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes and workers without gloves.
"You don't just grab the olives with your naked hand and put it on the sandwich," Arshad said. "If the delis surrounding us are getting A's we should be getting them too."
Khan said students are awaiting the results of a follow-up inspection that was supposed to be done within a month. The facilities' current grade is listed as pending on the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's website.
Mary Lou Edmondson, vice president for communications at City College, said all of the violations have been corrected as of this past weekend, when a drain was installed under a taco stand.
"We take the health and safety of our food service very seriously and all 10 violations have been corrected," Edmondson said.
In addition, there have also been management changes at the cafeteria and a new student, faculty and staff advisory board for food services has been created to better address concerns.
A spokeswoman from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said the site has not been re-inspected yet but it should be in the "near future."
Other than the safety issues, students are also concerned about the customer service they receive from the food staff and the cost of the food.
Arshad said he often brings food from home because the cafeteria is too expensive. Just outside of the building, Arshad said he can get a hero sandwich and a drink for $4, a selection that might cost double at the cafeteria.
Edmondson said a conversation about those issues has already begun with the newly-formed food services committee.
But some students, like Norah Wanda, 20, a psychology major and another student, Sabine Frederic-Estrada, remain unconvinced that anything has changed.
"Where they cook the hot food looks disgusting and they never wear gloves," said Wanda who stopped eating at the cafeteria when she noticed the oatmeal and Farina tasted exactly the same.
Frederic-Estrada said she had a policy of eating only pre-packaged food at the cafeteria but now doesn't even do that these days.
"They need to lower the prices, clean up the cafeteria, start wearing gloves and stop playing games," Frederic-Estrada said.