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Worm-like Object Seen In Walker Food

By Douglas E. Heimburger
Staff Reporter

Aramark, MIT's dining contractor, has been remedying health deficiencies noted in a recent inspection by the City of Cambridge as well as an image damaged by the discovery of two worm-like objects in corn served to students at Walker Memorial last week.

The inspection report details 13 deficiencies noted at Walker during a routine inspection conducted by the City of Cambridge Department of Inspectional Services late last November.

While most of the problems noted were minor, more serious problems noted by the agency included a refrigerator that was holding poultry at a temperature of 58F, far higher than the near-freezing temperatures required for safe storage, and the discovery of chipping walls and paint in the basement area, where food is kept.

In addition, the inspector found a roach and droppings near the Walker dining room.

Alater inspection in December found that most of the problems addressed had been fixed, according to the agency.

Walker's also had an inspection in August 1995, when a similar number of problems were found. At that time, another refrigerator was found to be above the guidelines for safe food processing, according to reports made by the agency.

Worm-like object found in corn

In the most recent incidents, two small worm-like objects were found in corn served to students at Walker last week.

One of the students involved, Hugo B. Barra '00, was eating a dinner consisting of a chicken breast, rice, corn, and a roll on Friday when he discovered what looked like a "small centipede," Barra said.

The manager of Walker at the time "really had a nervous breakdown" and said a similar event had happened a few days before, Barra said. "He was frightened" about the incident, he added.

As reconciliation for the incident, Aramark "gave me my money back and offered me another lunch,"Barra said. Barra declined the meal, however.

Barra said he was distressed about the state of Aramark's facilities as a result of the incident. "I'm starting to wonder what the kitchen would look like,"he said.

In 1994, students reported seeing rats in the food-serving areas of Lobdell Court. At the same time, mice were found in the eating areas of Lobdell and in other areas of the Student Center.

Aramark takes steps to respond

Aramark is concerned about the recent incident at Walker, said Elizabeth Emery, food services director for the company.

When the manager at Walker was alerted to the presence of the worm, he immediately removed that tray of corn from the serving line, Emery said.

The foreign object has been sent to an Aramark sanitarian to be tested, Emery said. The object likely was a worm that burrowed itself into the corn while it was on the plant and was subsequently not noticed during the packaging processes, she added.

The supplier of the corn, Hallsmith/Sysco, has been alerted to the object's presence, Emery said. As a precautionary measure, Aramark is "going to use another [supplier] until we get to the bottom of this," she said.

In addition, Aramark's central purchasing department requires "very strict [quality control] standards throughout the whole system," Emery said.

The presence of two closely-related incidents in a week may indicate that "there may be a particular problem with that lot of corn,"Emery said. Still, "there are systems in place to hopefully keep these things from happening."

Unlike fresh vegetables and meats, which are visually inspected upon delivery, frozen corn and other vegetables receive no inspection prior to cooking because they have been bagged and boxed for transport, Emery said.

The delivered corn is taken out of the bag by the cook and then heated, Emery said. It is unlikely that the cook would have noticed an object like the worm because its color and shape approximated that of the corn, she said.

Aramark is subject to unannounced monthly inspections by an inspection company contracted by MIT to oversee the sanitation of the facilities. Additionally, routine inspections are carried out by the Cambridge Inspections Department on all Aramark facilities as well as the kitchen facilities of Cambridge-based fraternities.

Aramark workers receive at least two classes in sanitation each year, Emery said. In addition, supervisors are required to be certified in food safety and sanitation.

Once a year, a registered sanitarian visits the dining facilities, Emery said. The sanitarian reviews the inspection reports and conducts more intensive training, she said.

Emery said Aramark would continue to investigate the problem. "We don't want something like this to happen again,"she said.