What’s behind your lunch? Part 3

From dangerous meat to oversized chichis, Aramark serves a buffet of controversy.

John Hoff

ANOTE: This column originally ran in the November 16th print edition, but was not put online.

Aramark, the company that runs your campus dining service, has a long and colorful history of legal scrapes, dubious associations and dedicated critics both outside and inside. Some of those critics met Monday with two members of the Daily staff to present a menu of issues ranging from possible peanut contamination to check chiseling. But so many Aramark controversies are in the past, right? Wouldn’t it be more productive to consider present business practices?

Let us hypothesize that the past month or so was fairly typical, and consider what has been happening with Aramark. A Google news search reveals repeat health code violations, allegations of employee mistreatment, tawdry acts of sexual harassment, messy management practices, even one death after a fight in a prison chow line. (Yes, the same company that does your lunch also serves prisoners.) While you calculate the rapidly decreasing number of pepperonis on your pizza, consider the following.

>Amanda Bergeron, student-journalist for the Berkeley Beacon (Berkeley, Calif.), reported a health code violation involving a popular burrito and pasta bar. Aramark would not release details to the press about what caused the lunch display station to be removed. The article also detailed food-related illnesses that had afflicted students in 2002. A “late-night buffet” was suspected in the earlier outbreak, but apparently Bergeron’s November 2005 article was the first time students read news of the 2002 sickness.

>In Cincinnati, health inspectors found dozens of violations at Paul Brown Stadium, including inadequate food temperatures and chemicals stored next to food preparation areas in unlabeled plastic cups. As part of a deal with Aramark, city inspectors will no longer be required to call the stadium days ahead of time to perform inspections. The health department plans to train Aramark employees and volunteers on food safety. Channel 5 in Cincinnati called the company a “repeat offender” and said violations go back half a decade, including lack of soap and towels for employees to wash hands. Food was found thawing outside and meat products were found at bacteria friendly temperatures.

>At the University of California-Irvine, three students released a report alleging mistreatment of Aramark workers and landscaping workers. The employees receive such bad pay and benefits that they are eligible for public assistance. In conjunction with the release of the report, 80 students and workers rallied in front of “the administrative flagpoles” and then marched along Ring Road, chanting slogans including, “UCI, you’re no good. Treat the workers like you should.” Slogans were also chanted in Spanish, according to student-journalist Ben Ritter.

>In Billings, Mont., the supervisor of a county jail kitchen who works for Aramark was alleged to have supplied inmates with “illegal drugs, tobacco and tobacco paraphernalia.” Five inmates may have been involved, two of whom work in the kitchen, according to the Billings Gazette.

>In Sioux City, Iowa, two former Aramark Uniform Services employees won $600,000 in a sexual harassment case. Jurors found that “Anita Lopez and Maricela Villalpando were subjected to a hostile work environment” and lost their jobs for reporting what their supervisor, “referred to in court documents only as Butch,” said and did. One woman was told that her “chi-chis” were too big and she would fall over. Another was subjected to continual comments on the size of her breasts, provocative dancing, touching, pinching and being asked to wear a polka-dot bikini to work on Butch’s birthday, all according to Sioux City Journal.

>In Texas, Aramark was in charge of cleaning schools in the Keller school district. After the company was fired, district officials found the warehouse in a terrible state of disorder, with equipment so shoddy that custodians have had to bring vacuums and mops from home to do their jobs. It was difficult to determine whether vendors had even dropped off equipment for which invoices had been submitted. Overtime was described as “out of control” by the Dallas Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

>In Michigan, a letter signed “We The Prisoners, Indiana State Prison” complained about waiting hours for dinner, then receiving insufficient servings. In July, one prisoner died in his cell after a fight that began in the tense chow line. Many prisoners complained about bad-tasting food but their complaints were shrugged off as a dislike for healthy food. Michigan Gov. Mitch Daniels thinks the move to privatize food service has been worth its weight in dollars, according to the Michigan City News Dispatch.

So there we have a typical month for Aramark. Thursday’s column will focus on the history of Aramark at the University, as seen through the archives of the Daily, and, as before, the column will question whether this is what the University wants for its future.

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected]