File photo: Starbucks in Robarts Library. Yassine ElBaradie/THE VARSITY

Last Wednesday, the Starbucks at Robarts Library was shut down for a day after a DineSafe inspection deemed it to be an “immediate health hazard.” Although the “crucial” infraction listed on the DineSafe website was originally attributed to a failure to prevent a rodent infestation, Toronto Public Health spokesperson Sylvanus Thompson confirmed in an interview with The Varsity that the infraction was in fact an insect, not a rodent, infestation.

Alex*, an employee at the Aramark-operated Starbucks, states that the pest infestation has been an issue for years. “A whole bunch of customers have noticed the cockroaches. They’ve killed them themselves…obviously having cockroaches running around all your surfaces is a huge issue.”

With even customers being aware of the cockroaches, the question remains: why did Aramark not address the infestation sooner? Alex believes this is because of a lack of communication between management and staff.

“Myself and my staff, we’ve been bugging…Aramark, telling them that this is an issue, that there are bugs everywhere. And their solution was just to put down traps and to sprinkle a powder. It wasn’t until DineSafe got involved and actually shut down the store that they took the proper action they should’ve taken years ago. I think it escalated because management just kept putting a bandage over a bullet wound. That’s not going to solve anything.”

An Aramark representative could not be reached for comment.

DineSafe’s report also stated that the Starbucks’ operators failed to wash surfaces properly. Alex says that the staff thoroughly cleans all surfaces they can reach. “We clean all the time, we sanitize everything. It’s a problem when the cockroaches live in places that we can’t get to. We have a bunch of partitions separating our store from the condiment area, and there’s a big wall there. They live inside those walls. We keep our food preparation place as clean as we can, but we can’t get into the walls and kill them.”

Hundreds of customers visit the Starbucks location daily, many of them U of T students. Zohra Azizi, a third-year student and Starbucks frequenter, was unaware of the reason behind the location’s closure. “A lot of customers have been inquiring as to why we were closed. We have been told by management that we have to say it’s an ‘operational issue.’ We are not allowed to inform our customers that the real reason we closed is because we had a cockroach infestation. They’re trying to keep the whole thing pretty quiet,” explains Alex.

Aramark has hired Orkin, a pest control company, to exterminate the cockroaches. Azizi says that even after the issue is resolved, she would not want to buy from the Starbucks again. “Because those kinds of things come back,” she explains. “I wouldn’t really feel comfortable buying stuff from there anymore,” she says. Azizi also expressed concerns that the cockroach infestation could spread to the rest of the Robarts food court.

However, Thompson assures that there is nothing to suggest that such a spread has happened.

Thompson says that at this point, the Starbucks location presents a moderate risk, meaning that DineSafe is required to inspect it twice a year. Next year, the risk assessment might identify Starbucks as a high risk. “I am not saying that it will. But there’s a strong possibility that it could.”

Starbucks reopened the day after its closure; however, whether or not the extermination process was successful remains to be seen.

*Name has been changed at subject’s request

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