Image Courtesy of Eaters Collective
By William Walto
Complaints about the Pryzbyla dining facilities? Nothing new there.
Yet, complaints about the Pryz food in recent weeks at the Pryz have skyrocketed in
number. Scores of students claiming that the Pryz food has made them feel sick, or reports of mice in the building.
“The food quality definitely needs to be addressed,” said senior Sarah Mullins. “Often
times food is undercooked or overcooked.”
The food quality at the Pryz is something which could definitely be improved. However, sometimes the quality has been bad enough to cause sickness in some students.
Junior Joseph Giessuebel said he had “an infection from the food” and that he’s “never eating there again.”
Something is clearly going on, and it isn’t a few isolated cases either. In an unofficial poll done by the Instagram account @cuapolls on February 21st, this question was asked: “Have you ever gotten food poisoning that you believe came from consuming Pryz food?” In a sample of 274 CUA students, 120 responded “yes” and 154 responded “no.” This means that, of those students who responded, 43% of them stated they believed they have at one point gotten sick because of the Pryz food.
So, with all the controversy surrounding the current dining facility conditions, how did it all start? More importantly, what is being done to fix the perceived issues?
To begin, much of the student awareness of the issues at the Pryz dining facilities
stems from a D.C. health inspection that occurred a month ago on January 27th, with the report being published soon after. The report details several issues, such as mice
droppings being found on the floors, Pryz workers not washing their hands, or food
being kept at incorrect temperatures.
All of these are concerns to the students at CUA. Are they being heard?
On February 18th, a group of students were given the chance by the Resident District Manager of Dining Services, Scott DiBella, to walk through the kitchens at the Pryz and
personally view the current health conditions, plus discuss with the dining facility staff
the whole controversy from the students’ own perspectives. The staff at the Pryz genuinely care about these health issues, and are working hard to fix them.
At the beginning of the walkthrough, DiBella first sat down with the students to discuss
the health report from January. As it turns out, that health report is already outdated.
“The reports keep progressing better” DiBella said.
During the week of February 13th alone, there were already two new health inspections. Each made significant progress on the issues that were present in the initial January 27th report.
In the January 27th report, several of the most important issues were staff not washing
hands when changing tasks, food in the salad bar area being kept at incorrect
temperatures, and mice droppings being found in several locations. DiBella discussed
each of the issues at great length, explaining what’s been changed.
Staff were retrained in procedure regarding proper handwashing and extra sets of eyes are now looking out for that issue. The salad bar was being kept at an incorrect temperature due to the “ice bath” below it not being filled up properly; this is also now fixed. Any student in the Eatery at the salad bar will now notice that the containers of food now “float” in the water, an indication of that change.
One staff member had been fabricating temperature reports; food is now being regularly checked by multiple staff members to make sure it is the proper temperature. Dining facility management have increased the number of audits they do on the facilities from once a month to now at least twice a month. Whatever the issue in the January 27th health inspection was, something is being done to address it.
Perhaps the most scandalous issue from that initial report was the mice droppings being found all over the Pryz. This specific issue came about over Christmas break. Over break, cleaning procedures in the Pryz were lessened due to the decrease in student activity. That, combined with the colder weather, meant a drastic uptick in the arrival of the furry creatures. When Pryz staff and students alike arrived back from break, they were encountered with a surprise: mice in the Pryz!
“There are no rats,” said Robert Benning, Resident Dining Director. “Although it may be catchy, it’s only ever been mice.”
The difference between rats and mice likely doesn’t mean much to many CUA students, although it’s perhaps a small consolation – the point is, there are still rodents in the building where students eat. However, just like every other issue from the January 27th report, this problem is being abated.
“When we first arrived after break, we set out traps and would catch maybe one or two
mice every single day” DiBella stated.
In the time since, though, Pryz staff have implemented several means of removing this problem. First? Switching to a new exterminator. When DiBella spoke with the previous CUA exterminator, the company simply said to put up with the mice problem – this is D.C. so evidently, the situation of mice in a dining facility could be considered somewhat acceptable.
To DiBella, this was not acceptable. Soon after that conversation, CUA switched to a new exterminator, one who would do all that they could to alleviate the mice problem, even if impossible to achieve entirely. Mice are pesky. There’ll always be a few of them around in the Pryz. What’s important, though, is that there are as few as possible.
To achieve this, traps were set out, floors and kitchens scrubbed, and eyes were glued to the floor, on the lookout for any evidence of the creatures. A hole in the wall that was a possible entrance for mice to enter through? The inside of the hole was filled with poison, and then sealed over. One or two mice every day back in January? Now, it’s one or two every week, as per DiBella.
DiBella didn’t meet with a group of students just to talk with them, though. He showed them the entire dining facilities, through the kitchens where staff were actively preparing meals, into the freezers and coolers where ingredients are stored, and the loading bay where groceries are delivered in the mornings. All the while, DiBella ardently pointed out where there had been issues from the health inspections. Now, however, it didn’t look like there were any issues in those places.
A shelf where there had apparently been a pile of mice droppings last month was now clean and bare of clutter. Every place where there had previously been something wrong was now accounted for. The January 27th health inspection report had reprimanded the Pryz dining facilities on multiple health violations. The new ones in February? Much improved.
A February 17th health inspection report contained a few issues, but the list is much shorter compared to the one from a month prior. In the new report, there were no issues concerning Pryz staff handwashing, nor issues regarding the salad bar temperature. Sure, there were still a few mice droppings to be found, but that’s a battle in progress – a battle that’ll hopefully be won with the coming of warm weather.
Despite all the changes that have been made, some students may still become sick
from the Pryz food. Is there a way to determine why this happens? Apparently, yes
there is. In the Pryz kitchens, the chefs keep a record book of all the recipes for the food
being prepared, as well as continuously-updated temperature logs as that food cooks.
“If a student comes to us saying they got a stomachache, we now know where to check,” said DiBella and Yerminson Figueroa, Campus Executive Chef.
In that book, Pryzstaff can see exactly what ingredients are in all meals being made on a given day, as well as the temperatures for which those meals are cooked at. If a student becomes sick from the Pryz food, there’s a place to check where something went wrong.
Over Spring break, the Pryz staff are ensuring that cleaning procedures are going to continue to occur regularly so as to prevent the same issue from Christmas break from happening again. Students at CUA deserve quality, healthy food. That’s non-negotiable. Regardless of the changes being made now, students have already gotten sick from the food. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t still up to the Pryz staff to continue fixing things. There is no uncertainty that Scott DiBella genuinely cares about these health issues.
“Scott is taking this very personally,” Benning said at the end of the walkthrough. “People from other Universities probably wouldn’t do as much as he’s doing.”
DiBella is taking the issue to heart and wants to show that the dining facilities are fixing things. Even if the issues from the initial January 27th health inspection report haven’t been totally cleared yet, it’s apparent that those issues are being heard.