By Lauren del Valle and Ehlayna Napolitano
She took her crepe to-go, planning to eat it in her dorm room. When she got there, however, she discovered the blueberries inside were “shriveled and rotten.” Frustrated by past gainless confrontations with on-campus Lackmann staff, Julie Rafatpanah contacted the Nassau County Department of Health.
That was last spring. Her complaint was filed and investigated. Health regulations were fulfilled, but her concerns did not wane, and when she returned as a Welcome Week leader at the end of this August, Rafatpanah found herself calling the Department of Health again.
On Aug. 29 Rafatpanah reached out once more. Via phone and email, she filed another complaint regarding a moldy croissant sold to her at the Starbucks kiosk in the Mack Student Center. She included a picture of the croissant in her email.
Rafatpanah also suggested that the health inspector look into multiple food establishments, since Lackmann runs all food locations on campus. The inspector called her back, but suggested that the croissant, essentially, could not have been sold to her at the establishment, saying that the Starbucks wasn’t open at the time, Rafatpanah said.
Sometime between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Rafatpanah said she purchased the croissant. According to Welcome Week documentation published by the Office of Student Leadership and Activities (OSLA), the Student Center Starbucks kiosk serviced customers from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Aug. 29.
Lackmann Culinary Services has been a part of Hofstra’s campus since 1992, according to Dennis Lestrange, the resident district manager for Lackmann at Hofstra. In 2009, it became a part of Compass Group, Inc. and now functions as a subsidiary of that corporation.
Lackmann has violated health code regulations in the past. Since the fall semester of 2013, eight critical violations (also known as red violations) have been found during regular inspections at various locations on campus, according to documentation on open.ny.gov, an interactive, state-run website that gives citizens access to New York government documents.
Violations were primarily aimed at temperature regulations and cross-contamination issues. Violation descriptions reported, “accurate thermometers [were] not available or used to evaluate potentially hazardous food temperatures,” as well as “cooked or prepared foods are subject to cross-contamination from raw foods.” The former accounted for two of the eight, and the latter accounted for four.
Other violations included bare hand contact with food and improperly stored canned goods, according to the documentation.
Prior to August of 2013, the last critical violation was documented in 2009.
If found during a health inspection, red violations necessitate immediate action on the part of the facility.
“Red violations have the potential to be contributing factors to a possible foodborne illness. When a Red violations [sic] is noted, the Food Service Establishment must remediate immediately. This remediation must be done before the DOH inspector leaves the facility,” wrote Mary Ellen Laurain, the Nassau County Department of Health’s director of the Office of Communications and Health Education in an email.
Health inspectors can also issue less critical violations, which are called “blue violations.” These pertain to the sanitation, design and maintenance of a particular establishment, Laurain said. At Hofstra, these non-critical violations have totaled 79 since last fall, according to the same documentation.
The violations on campus have ranged in nature, including “insects, rodents present” and “food not protected during storage… from potential sources of contamination” as cited issues found during inspections. They also include violations like, “hot, cold water running, pressure inadequate,” and “lighting and ventilation inadequate, fixtures not shielded.”
Crystal Samuel, the marketing manager at Lackmann Culinary Services, said that it is the food company’s policy to address violations as soon as possible.
“If a violation is noted in a health inspection, Lackmann would immediately address and correct it,” Samuel wrote in an email.
Samuel also noted that these corrective measures could include immediate action, as well as retraining and facility repair.
“Lackmann has extensive procedures in place regarding dining facility sanitation that are in full compliance with food safety and sanitation laws and uses rigorous third-party external audits to ensure the highest industry quality assurance standards are met,” Samuel said. “All dining operations are up to code on all health inspections.”
Similarly, Lestrange noted that improvements are currently being made to the way Lackmann operates on campus.
“We are continually striving to find new ways to improve our dining program and exceed customer expectations,” he said. Lestrange also stated that Lackmann is currently involved in a “price/value campaign” that will “add value to the current dining program,” as well as creating a new associate training program to increase guest service and speed.
According Lestrange, Lackmann also conducts a student survey once per semester in an effort to monitor student satisfaction. They also have more recently instituted programs like the “chat-back” texting feedback program and round-table discussions between Lackmann representatives and students in an effort to include student input.
In spite of this, Lackmann has had a relatively contentious relationship with students on campus over the past few years. According to a 2011 Chronicle article, 80 percent of students polled in a double survey were dissatisfied with Lackmann and 85 percent polled in a separate survey had a desire to see a new eatery on campus.
Last year, alumni Patrick Tierney and Billy Stein, both of whom graduated last spring, helped organize an online petition to see Lackmann removed from Hofstra’s campus, as a result of the mandatory meal plan instituted for residential students last year. The petition was posted last spring in connection with a Facebook page against the mandatory meal plan, according to Tierney. The public Facebook group currently has 523 members.
This type of ill-will toward Lackmann continues to exist among the Hofstra student body. In a three-question poll conducted by The Chronicle via social media last week, 155 Hofstra students were sampled.
The poll asked students to rank their satisfaction with Lackmann on a scale from one to four, one being “extremely dissatisfied” and four, “extremely satisfied.” Forty-eight percent selected two. “Extremely dissatisfied” followed with 35 percent.
When asked how frequently students eat on campus and thus interact with Lackmann, 71 percent responded that they almost always eat on campus.
The third question offered an optional forum in which students could offer any additional commentary on the subject.
Several students sampled in the anonymous online poll conducted last week stated that like Rafatpanah, they had found mold and rotting food on campus.
“I worry about expired food all the time,” one survey-taker stated.
“The university is well acquainted with these kinds of complaints voiced by the student body. It’s shameful that a university of this caliber displays such apathy towards student welfare and opinion,” another said.
Lestrange recommended that students use social media to reach out to Lackmann and address questions or concerns directly to Lackmann’s management. Lackmann currently has accounts on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
Rafatpanah has taken advantage of social media as a way to get her concerns across. Last week, she used the “#dayinthepride” campaign to make a Facebook post voicing her concerns over the food on campus. Attached was the picture of the croissant she found, as well as one of moldy cheese she found at the omelet station in the Student Center.
“I am appalled that the administration turns a blind eye at Lackmann’s blatant health code violations and price gouging. I believe in donating to my alma mater, especially because alumni donations has made a significant impact in my college career, but I refuse to do so until Lackmann Food Services is no longer on this campus,” Rafatpanah wrote in the post.
The post received attention, and even made its way to the Dean of Students. Jared Sarcka, a senator on the University Senate, presented the post to the Student Affairs Committee, of which Dean of Students Sophia Pertuz is a member.
“…every senator agreed this issue should be at the top of our list to rectify and will be the first thing we discuss at our student affairs committee meeting,” said junior political science major Sarcka. “We discussed creating a task force to address the many issues that come with Lackman and their services and after speaking with Houston Dougharty today, I am now on the Dining/Food Committee along with an elected SGA senator.’
“I think the best way to get rid of them is using your dollar somewhere, because people don’t really think about that,” said Rafatpanah.
“It’ll literally take you five minutes and is completely anonymous. It’s your tax dollars, it’s their purpose and they’re usually really nice about it,” Rafatpanah said about contacting the Department of Health. “Worse case scenario they’re like, ‘we didn’t find anything.’ But at least they went out there, because they legally have to, and they looked. So that’s what I plan on doing every time I get something that’s not right.”