Commons failure not a health risk

Commons Dining Hall scored 75 out of a possible 100 points in last month’s health inspection.
Commons Dining Hall scored 75 out of a possible 100 points in last month’s health inspection. Photo by Josh Satok.

It is safe to eat in Commons Dining Hall, though it failed a routine New Haven Health Department inspection last month, according to New Haven Health Department officials.

Although Commons scored 75 out of 100 in a March 23 health and safety inspection, city and dining officials said there are no serious health risks associated with eating there. Most of the violations cited in the inspection have little to no effect on the food itself, said New Haven Health Department Senior Sanitarian Shellie Longo, who inspects the area that includes all of Yale’s dining halls. She added that there were no “critical violations” that would warrant the closure of Commons.

New Haven Health Department Senior Sanitarian Shellie Longo said that she cannot remember another specific instance of a Yale dining facility failing an inspection.
New Haven Health Department Senior Sanitarian Shellie Longo said that she cannot remember another specific instance of a Yale dining facility failing an inspection.

“If you really look at some of the violations we noted, they don’t really pertain to the actual physical food product or temperatures that are going to affect anyone eating there,” Longo said.

Dining officials said they were addressing the concerns Longo cited, which include chipping paint on equipment, the storage of employee food with that served to students, and soiled wiping cloths and cutting boards.

Commons General Manager Maureen O’Donnell said most of the concerns will be addressed by next week, when inspectors return. But some issues, like the installation of new hand-washing sinks, will be dealt with over the summer.

“Obviously, I am concerned [about the inspection report],” O’Donnell said. “These are violations we need to address and we will.”

Longo said though there were a high number of violations, none of them were likely to lead to food-borne illness — a criteria for critical violations and forced closure of an establishment.

Inspections, which take place unannounced between one and four times each year, score establishments out of 100, with different health and safety violations incurring different deductions in score, Longo said. Eateries that score 80 or lower have two weeks to improve their practices before a second inspection visit, and further non-critical failures can result in additional re-inspections at the proprietor’s expense.

Yale dining halls are “generally fairly good” because of internal Yale dining standards, Longo said, adding that she could not recall another specific instance of a Yale facility failing an inspection. Longo said she had inspected other Yale dining facilities within the past month, though she could not recall specific violations or scores.

Certain problems in Commons, such as the way utensils are stored and the places where staff leave their personal food, can only be addressed with staff cooperation, O’Donnell said. But 11 of 12 Commons staff members interviewed said they were unaware of the failure and the changes they need to make.

Only one employee said she had heard of “some health issues,” though she could not identify what the specific problems or remedies were.

Neither Rafi Taherian, the executive director of Yale Dining, nor Regenia Phillips, the director of residential dining, responded to requests for comment Wednesday.

While O’Donnell said random factors like a cart that happened to be dirty on the day of the inspection might have contributed to Commons’ failure, Longo pointed to other issues that might have led to the low score.

“Because [Commons is] so large, it probably has more violations due to size and there being so many different places to inspect compared to a regular dining hall,” Longo said.

Out of 19 students interviewed, 12 said they were surprised by the findings of Longo’s inspection report. Though all said that they would not actively avoid eating in Commons unless more serious health threats come to light, many added that they were displeased by the news.

“It’s disappointing to realize that a University-run eatery like Commons is so bad in terms of cleanliness,” said Julie Blindauer ’14.

Other students said they questioned the scoring of the inspections; of the 17 New Haven restaurants inspected between March 14 and March 23, eight received failing scores, including Prime 16, Mamoun’s Falafel and Pacifico.


  • Yale14

    Soiled rags and cutting boards. Chipped paint on equipment. The whole building is the filthiest place on campus. Dining hall workers seem completely indifferent to the mess. I will never eat here again until they clean up their act.

  • Jaymin

    And the forks! They always have gunk on them.

  • Quals

    The only risk I see is the tufo apple crisp.

  • silliwin01

    Commons is unquestionably an inferior dining experience.

  • rbJE10

    I loved eating at Commons for the flexible hours and because there was always the fallback of pizza in case whatever else they were serving wasn’t good–unlike the college dining halls, where if you didn’t like what they were serving then it was Lucky Charms and Peanut Butter and Jelly for dinner–but no matter how much love I have for Commons, I absolutely hated how the utensils indeed had gunk on them, as did the cups and plates. Only once in my four years was able to just grab one cup and use it, in all other cases there was some grossness on them that required searching for a clean cup, forks as well. That weird yellowish gunk, or just plain clumps of food were stuck on so much stuff, it got really annoying, but that was the trade off for never leaving hungry.

    I eventually got sick of that and started using the tiny disposable cups like crazy, which I disliked because it’s just contributing more garbage, but I mean, by senior year, I must have wasted literally hours of my life looking for clean stuff. Super annoying, Commons.

    At least the trays were usually clean. And the staff was 99% friendly.

  • River Tam

    Reuben speaks the truth.

  • Goldie08

    One of my favorite annual activities was always “Day in Commons” with the swim team. Now that I think about it, this year’s Day is coming up in just a few weeks.