The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on November 14. Despite a lengthy six-hour program that discussed all items on the agenda, the attendees surprisingly failed to discuss one of the most serious issues currently affecting students: questionable food safety on campus.
Asian Gourmet, a popular Chinese-themed vendor, has made a name for itself this year by selling food that contained a bug in it to students on at least two occasions. In March, a student found a large winged insect in her bok choy meal. A similar incident occurred in October, involving another student.
As reported by UTSC’s student newspaper, The Underground, Asian Gourmet conceded that it would often find and pick insects out of the vegetables, but the two described incidents occurred because the insects were likely trapped within the leaves of the vegetables. It even admitted that given the quantity of food involved in the cooking process, employees don’t “look carefully” when it comes to insects.
Following the incidents, DineSafe, Toronto Public Health’s food safety program, inspected Asian Gourmet on October 15, handing it a “conditional pass” with a list of infractions.
These included: failure to maintain food at an appropriate temperature; not properly washing the surface of the kitchen; not properly protecting its food from contamination and adulteration; not using properly cleaned utensils; and, worst of all, using a dirty cloth to clean food surfaces.
It might seem puzzling that Asian Gourmet remains popular and attractive to UTSC students, especially for lunchtime service, despite the repeated bad publicity. It is not as though students are irrational. The truth is that the food vendors at UTSC are limited, both in number and variety. A lack of competition leaves students with little choice and likely drives the careless service at Asian Gourmet.
The SCSU’s response, as indicated in a November 8 statement, is that it only operates as the landlord, leasing the Student Centre space to food vendors. Vendors like Asian Gourmet “operate independently, and are therefore outside the management of the SCSU.”
But food safety at UTSC is not just an issue for independently operated vendors. For instance, Rex’s Den — operated directly by the SCSU — also drew attention when hair and insects were discovered in the food served to students. During the summer, Rex’s Den also received a conditional pass from a DineSafe inspection, with two significant infractions listed.
Vendors like Asian Gourmet and Rex’s Den must do more: they have a responsibility for food safety, not just to meet municipal regulations, but also to ensure the health and well-being of students and customers.
There is no excuse for these incidents — and they only represent those cases in which students clearly found and chose to report items that compromised their safety. Students who don’t notice insects or hair in their food could fall in danger.
The SCSU must recognize that the pattern of food safety issues is a significant concern, especially considering that one involved its own vendor. It is necessary for the SCSU to take action and not just offer statements.
As Asian Gourmet’s landlord, the SCSU should firmly consider terminating its contract. This might seem excessive, but it would demonstrate that the SCSU puts the interests and needs of UTSC students above those of food vendors, which can always be replaced with other franchised food companies.
At the very least, a warning to Asian Gourmet by the SCSU could force it to improve operations. As for Rex’s Den, the union must take full responsibility and ensure that management lives up to optimal food safety. In general, it should consider implementing stricter food safety policies.
The SCSU must uphold its duty to represent students and do what is best — and that means ensuring food safety on campus.
Michael Phoon is a second-year Journalism student at UTSC. He is The Varsity’s UTSC Affairs Columnist.