MacHall is a high-traffic building. Is health and safety in the building up to standard?
Louie Villanueva/the Gauntlet

Critical concerns about MacHall kitchens

Alberta Health Services inspection reports look at MacHall food vendors

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MacEwan Student Centre is the heart of the University of Calgary. An average of 30,000 people eat, study or socialize in MSC every day. With 20 food vendors, three restaurants and two convenience stores, MSC is a lifeline for U of C students. Health and safety standards need to be met in a building as bustling as MSC. However, recent Alberta Health Services health and safety inspection reports show health code violations at U of C food locations.

Students’ Union vice-president operations and finance Scott Weir said that every facility in MSC that handles food has to adhere to the food and safety regulations set by AHS. 

“Ultimately, it’s a very high-traffic building,” said Weir. “The amount of cleaning that has to go through it is fairly significant. We need to make sure that between [the SU] and the university, those standards are being met and exceeded.”

Bars are inspected about once a year, but restaurants, like the Den and the Last Defence Lounge, are checked more often. March 21, 2012 was the Black Lounge’s latest inspection, which had five critical health violations, including “A chemical fly repellent hanging beside the cooler near the pizza dough press equipment,” and “Ketchup bottles being reused and not properly manually washed, rinsed and sanitized.” 

On Jan. 19, 2012, the Last Defence Lounge had four critical violations and the Den had three critical violations on March 21, 2012. 

AHS received a complaint about A&W that was investigated on Dec. 16, 2011 and uncovered food in the cooler that was considered a critical violation. Another complaint about Bake Chef was investigated on Dec. 16, 2011 — a critical health concern was filed about the temperature meat was stored at. A recent investigation of Bake Chef on Aug. 7, 2012 found three critical violations. An inspection at the Coffee Company on March 14, 2011 had a critical health concern because milk in a cooler measured at 6.6 C. 

According to AHS Calgary zone supervisor of safe food Sarah Nunn, there are over 6,000 food facilities within city of Calgary limits, so AHS relies heavily on the public for complaints.

“We aim to get into the facilities more often, but we also have demands and complaints. If we get a large complaint demand, then our routine inspections will decrease as a result,” said Nunn.

In 2011, AHS received over 700 complaints from the public. All complaints are followed up on. 

“Alberta health and safety inspectors always come in at peak times and relatively often to check things out and make sure [vendors] are up to standard. Vendors have no idea when these things happen,” said Weir. 

Many recent inspections of the food vendors in MSC yielded critical violations. During an Oct. 17, 2012 inspection of Jugo Juice, a critical health concern was raised because “Two bags of chicken were thawing at room temperature for about one hour. Temperature of chicken measured at -1.5 C.”

Any health and safety concern that is considered critical by AHS requires a re-inspection, which is done before the next routine inspection to ensure that all concerns are properly dealt with.

“What we do is let the operators know what we would like to get done and then we work with the operators to get those completed,” said Nunn. 

The latest inspection with a critical concern was at Korean BBQ on Nov. 1, 2012. According to the report, “Tongs used for raw meat were stored in the same container as the tongs used for the cooked meat.”

Other critical health concerns included “full access to the hand-wash station being blocked by the panini machine” at La Prep on Aug. 8, 2012.

A restaurant must pass an initial approval inspection before it opens to ensure that all health standards are met. Fuel for Gold failed its initial inspection on Sept. 19, 2011 due to having no sanitizers at the location, which was considered a critical health concern.

Oriental Wok and Noodle & Grill Express also failed their initial inspections twice this year, on Sept. 6 and 12, due to no drain board installed and the lack of a cleaning schedule. Umi Sushi Express, however, passed its initial inspection on June 14, 2012 despite five critical health concerns, including “Vegetable tempura flour mixture used over the course of the day left out at room temperature.”

Other restaurants in MSC passed their latest inspections without any concerns. No violations were found at Pita on the Run on Sept. 14, 2011, Subway on March 14, 2012 or Tim Hortons and Pizza 73 on Oct. 11, 2011. 

Places with pre-packaged food, like Stör and Varsity Pharmacy, are also inspected, but less often than restaurants or food vendors. 

“What we do is work on a 
low-, medium-, high-risk inspection regime,” said Nunn. “So those with a high risk get inspected more often and those with a low risk get inspected less often. For example, if we had a full restaurant that is doing extensive food handling versus a small grocery store with only pre-packaged products, it makes no sense to have the same number of inspections at each location.”

Before Stör reopened on Sept. 10, 2012, initial approval was denied due to three critical health violations: certain food products were located directly beside the sink, the sink was not equipped with a drain rack and installation of wall tiles was not complete. Varsity Pharmacy, on the other hand, passed inspection without any violations on Jan. 6, 2011. 

Despite critical health concerns at food locations in MSC, all restaurants continue to operate, which means they are not a significant risk to public health, according to Nunn.

“There are a number of things that would warrant closing down a restaurant facility. It will depend on what we find when we are there. Health inspectors are experienced and well-trained and if they see a facility where they have concerns for public health, then they will initiate a closure procedure,” said Nunn. “We take that very seriously. If something is a very significant risk, we will do the closure on the spot.”

Weir said that there has never been a restaurant closure in MSC because of food safety concerns.

“When there are violations, ultimately, the place can be closed or fined by the health inspector,” said Weir. “We have never had a place close so everyone has met standards and expectations.”

Weir said that the concerns raised are dealt with immediately.

“When a food establishment is assessed by a health inspector, any issues that arise are given a set timeline to be corrected. At the end of this timeline, the health inspector comes back in to ensure that corrective action was indeed taken. All of the issues were addressed promptly,” he said.

The university and the SU control the general cleanliness of MSC. However, sixth-year business and actuarial science student Alexander Goh said that it is not entirely up to university employees to keep MSC clean.

“I think the students are very much to blame when it comes to a lot of the mess. I mean, you can hire people to do only so much — you have to care for the place yourself,” he said.

Any concerns regarding health and safety can be brought to the SU or Alberta Health Services.