Do you want bugs with that?

Given recent food safety controversies, the SCSU must take action to ensure the well-being of UTSC students

Do you want bugs with that?

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 Varsitys UTSC Affairs Columnist.

“I really wish there were healthier options”: a look at UTSC’s food scene

Food options, Highland Hall café, food quality issues at UTSC

“I really wish there were healthier options”: a look  at UTSC’s  food scene

Daria Khalimdarova, a second-year international student from Russia, heats up her food in one of the microwaves at UTSC. This time, it was chicken and rice.

“I am an international student who lives alone in Canada,” said Khalimdarova. “I spend a lot of time at school… so it was challenging for me to start cooking.” However, she said that limited food options, low food quality, and the food vendors’ early closing hours drove her to cancel her meal plan at UTSC and begin cooking for herself.

Most food vendors at Market Place close at 7:00 pm from Monday to Thursday. On Fridays, most close at 4:00 pm. All food vendors at the Market Place are closed on weekends.

According to Food Partnerships’ Assistant Director Frank Peruzzi, they are in the process of developing a new five-year plan to improve the food at UTSC.

“A bubble tea concept is now open at Rex’s Den and a new café called ‘Gathering Grounds’ will soon open in Highland Hall,” Peruzzi told The Varsity. “When the new residence opens in the future, it will include a new dining hall with several new concepts and extended hours throughout the week and weekend.”

He said that when choosing new restaurant concepts, his management team discusses ideas and solicits students’ feedback via student surveys. The surveys are held every two years.

“There are a lot of international students coming from different backgrounds including myself who are struggling to adapt to local food,” said Khalimdarova. “I would love to see some changes towards making different meal options available across the UTSC campus.”

Luke Zhang, a second-year Computer Science student, also complained about the food quality at UTSC. “The healthy options are overpriced in my opinion,” said Zhang.

He cited fruit at Market Place as an example. “I really wish there were healthier options, but there aren’t so I usually settle for a burrito bowl at the local kitchen or a pizza at Pizza Pizza.”

There have also been numerous food quality incidents at UTSC. One of them took place in March, when a student found a winged insect in her food from Asian Gourmet, a restaurant in UTSC’s Student Centre.

Then in August, a “caterpillar-like bug” was found in a first year’s food during the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union’s (SCSU) frosh week.

The most recent bug incident took place on October 15, when another insect was found in Asian Gourmet food.

All restaurants in the Student Centre are separately leased with the SCSU as the landlord.

After the August incident, the SCSU said executives “would be attending Food Handling courses” in preparation for future events.

The SCSU also told The Varsity that it was “disappointed in the recent incident at Asian Gourmet and is currently investigating the matter.”

Zhang thinks that the food quality of the food chain vendors at the Student Centre are poor “compared to the same chain restaurants in other places.”

“Toronto Health Department [assesses] the food safety risk of each vendor and schedule[s] inspections accordingly,” said Peruzzi. “A fresh fruit vendor will likely be inspected fewer times than a burger shop.”

Peruzzi said that each food vendor separately selects its own supplier. He said that he is unaware about whether SCSU executives are trained in restaurant management.

The SCSU has not responded to The Varsity‘s requests for comment.

Scarborough student union apologizes for food quality issue at frosh

Student claims she saw dead, caterpillar-like bug in food

Scarborough student union apologizes for food quality issue at frosh

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) has issued an apology for a “food quality issue” that occurred during its orientation.

SCSU’s frosh week, which took place from August 29–31, apparently employed a deficient food vendor, though the union did not say what the problem was or how many people were affected by the food.

In a statement to The Varsity, the SCSU wrote that “upon receiving a food complaint the union stopped serving the food.”

“Since Frosh, the Union has met with the food vendor, and after inspection from Health and Safety, it has been confirmed that the issue stemmed from the food supplier for the vendor, rather than the vendor itself. The vendor has assured the Union that they immediately switched suppliers upon receiving the complaint.”

First-year student Ellen Eshenko told The Varsity that they were given Chinese food that contained broccoli, cabbage, and rice. As she was eating, she saw a dead, green, caterpillar-like bug on a piece of broccoli. Eshenko described the bug to be the size of her fingernail.

She added that the “SCSU executives were really nice about it and so worried about it they took my info down.”

The statement that the SCSU posted on Facebook on September 6 read, “We would like to reassure you that all food vendors at Frosh were fully screened in accordance to the appropriate measures of UTSC, as well as sampled prior to ordering for the event.”

“However, despite our best efforts, we are disappointed with one of the vendors of our event. In response, we have been taking thorough measures to investigate and resolve the matter.”

The statement was signed by all SCSU executives and it included a note to contact SCSU President Nicole Brayiannis at president@scsu.ca for any further inquiries.

The SCSU added that executives “would be attending Food Handling courses” in preparation for future events.

The union’s three-day orientation, which was called Infinity, cost $65–80 to attend and was open to all incoming first-year UTSC students. According to the event website, tickets are non-refundable.