A recent Instagram post has some York College students questioning the very place they eat and socialize in.
The Instagram video was posted by 21-year-old York student and social work major Camille Azarco. The caption of the video reads, “this is what lurks in CUNY York College….mice.” The video generated just 23 likes over the course of three days. The 15 second video shows just one mouse, first strolling underneath tables before it is met by two other mice from both its front and back sides. The three mice first pause for a few seconds before fleeing back under the heater together.
According to Azarcon, the incident occurred March 6, around 4 p.m. After leaving her last class she headed downstairs to the dining area.
“I was about to comment on how dirty the cafeteria was until I saw the mice. At first it was just one mouse, just crawling, so me and my friend took a video of it. I didn’t know until it started moving that way,” she said pointing towards the ramp. “That’s when I saw all three.”
In the video, students can be heard reacting to the rodents. Azarcon said there were 10 to 15 students all looking at the three mice running in the cafeteria.
“It was not a very pretty scene” Azarcon said. “They kept going back under the heater. That was pretty much their escape. Everytime they heard us talking or yelling, they would go back.”
The footage corroborates with what Azarcon said. When the students start reacting out loud, the mice are seen retreating away from the commotion.
Prior to the day the footage was captured, Azarco said she saw and heard evidence of mice in the general area before.
“The first time I was sitting by the outlet area by where the ramp is.” Azarco said. “Under the heater, I heard something moving. I was really shocked, thinking ‘what’s in there?’”
That day Azarco said she saw something shoving out straw wrappers from under the heater.
“I didn’t know what it was. At first I thought it was a raccoon or something,” she said.
This isn’t the first time uninvited guests have been discovered on campus. In April 2014, a raccoon was found in the financial aid office. The students and faculty were evacuated until the issue was taken care of. Before that incident, on Nov. 18, 2013, bed bugs were discovered in both the classroom building and science building. The buildings were closed down, exterminated and reopened within three days.
22-year-old Eric Ortiz, occupational therapy major and senior, said the video didn’t surprise him much as this wasn’t the first time he had seen mice in the dining area. Ortiz, who is on campus three times a week this semester, said he’s seen them “everyday” for about a month.
“I guess it’s because it’s really cold outside and they want to come in,” Ortiz said, explaining why he thinks mice have been appearing in the area lately.
“It’s always in the food area downstairs.” He specified that he’d never seen the mice going into or leaving the actual area where they prepare food. “That would be the cut off point for me,” Ortiz said.
Azarco said some students commented on the video mentioning that they had seen a single mouse in the dining area before. Neither she nor the other students heard in the video brought up the issue to workers in the cafeteria.
“I didn’t know who to tell, I mean they said to tell a bunch of people,” referring to the comments on her video suggesting she tell school officials. “Public safety, the health staff. I figured I might as well post it to have some exposure on the ordeal.”
Azarcon expressed her dismay with the situation.
“What’s sad is I thought one was bad enough,” Azarcon said. “The fact that there was three, possibly a whole family down there, that’s not sanitary.”
Although the incident took place a good distance away from the area where food is actually served, one could only question whether or not the issue extends to the cafeteria.
Upon receiving the tip from students, Pandora’s Box looked into the actual cafeteria itself and the food provider, Aladdin Food Management Services. Aladdin was put in charge of food at the beginning of the fall 2014 semester. They were responsible for the sweeping renovations and changes to the schools food offerings.
When contacting kitchen manager Henry McCants to get a comment on the footage he declined. He mentioned that where the incident took place, the school was responsible, not Aladdin.
PB looked into the the standards of the York Cafeteria to see if it was in any better shape than the dining area. Pandora’s Box looked into the New York City Health Department’s last inspection of the cafeteria. Unfortunately for students and faculty, the results were not good.
According to the New York City Health and Mental Hygiene website which details all restaurants in NYC and their inspections ratings, the York College Cafeteria received nine sanitary violations at their last inspection Jan. 14, 2015, seven of which were critical. These included the presence of filth flies, live roaches, mice and rats, as well as issues with the preparation of food (more details can be seen in the screenshot above). Their grade is pending as of this writing.
All other CUNY school restaurant ratings are available on the website. With the exception of Queensborough Community College’s Science Cafe, which received a B for 4 critical violations, and John Jay’s Dining Hall, who also as a grade pending for 3 violations, all other food establishments across all of CUNY received an A grading. It should also be noted that neither Queensboro Science Cafe and John Jay’s Dining Hall received a critical violation for roaches, mice, rats or any sort of pests.
Since July 2010, all food establishments are required to post a letter grade of their sanitary inspection. Every violation is valued at a preset number of points which are totaled at the end of the inspection for a grade. The lower a restaurant scores, the few violations. 13 points or less receives an A, 14 to 27 points receives a B and 28 or more points earns a C. The York College cafeteria received 38 points on the Jan. 14 inspection.
According to the New York Times, if an establishment scores higher than a 14, the inspection goes ungraded and an inspector will return unannounced within a month. If the establishment has not received an A during the second unannounced inspection, they are given two display signs: one with their grade and another with a grade pending notification. They can post either sign until they appear before the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) Health Tribunal in about one month where the grade is can be contested. After this period the grade is finalized and must be posted.
We reached out to the York Cafeteria and was put in touch with the cafeteria’s evening supervisor, Amelia Sobha.
“At this time we have no comment” Sobha said. “I’m sorry I couldn’t help you more and I’m sorry we couldn’t help you more Just know that we have everyone’s best interest at heart.”
The inspection prior to January took place Dec. 16, 2014, the end of the fall semester. The York Cafeteria received 13 points in December. Within the month of the two inspections, the inspection score was one point shy of tripling.
Cafeteria was closed when the video was shot.
The York Administrators
We reached out to the York College administration for a comment and was directed to a Mr. Eric Phillips via email. Phillips a spokesperson for the college.
Phillips told the paper when PB brought up the issue with them, it was the first time they had heard about the Azarcon’s video.
“We’re obviously reviewing it closely and taking it seriously, as we do with any issue of student safety and campus cleanliness.”
In terms of the problems with the Health department’s inspection, Phillips said he was aware of the issue.
“They have already taken place and will continue as precautionary measures.”
When asked exactly when the issue was taken care of, Phillips said earlier in the semester. PB asked why the cafeteria was not closed down to take proper action Phillips responded that it didn’t need to be.
“The exterminators set traps and plug holes,” Phillips said. “There are no toxic products used in the café. These types of extermination measures are routinely and proactively performed as a part of our extensive efforts to provide a safe, clean campus for our students and faculty.”
Phillips also confirmed that issues in the dining area is not the responsibility of the college alone like McCants suggested.
“Aladdin and York have jurisdictions of shared responsibility when it comes to the dining areas,” he wrote. “We provide general building maintenance and we work together to provide cleaning services for student dining areas. We’re working together to solve the problem quickly.”
When PB contacted McCants on the issue, he told our reporters to contact Aladdin spokesperson Jim Alder. As of this writing PB was not able to get in touch with Alder.
The Department of Health
Pandora’s Box also reached out to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the department responsible for the inspections. We were put in contact with the department Deputy Press Secretary, a Mr. Levi Fishman.
Fishman also confirmed, like the college, that violation fines are the responsibility of the food provider.
“Violations are cited to the entity holding the permit. In this case, the entity is listed as Aladdin Food Management. The Health Department issues violations, not fines. Fines are determined at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings.”
PB contacted the NYC Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH). OATH is an independent city agency in charge of hearing out restaurants that want to contest violations received from city agencies like the Department of Health. As previously mentioned, the party in question, in this case, Aladdin, is given the opportunity to challenge the violations.
OATH Assistant Commissioner Marisa Sengio told PB that Aladdin did appear before but had their arbitration rescheduled and that the cafeteria’s next inspection is scheduled for March 11 at 9 .a.m.
York Cafeteria evening supervisor Amelia Sobha told Pandora’s Box that as soon as her higher ups in Aladdin Food Management Services inform her of an official statement, those in charge of the York Cafeteria will let the college know.