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CSM closes La Plata campus cafeteria due to recurring health violations

The College of Southern Maryland announced this week that it is closing its on-campus cafeteria until further notice as it seeks a new vendor to operate it, following a health department inspection that revealed a pest infestation.

“When we lost confidence in the cafeteria vendor’s ability to meet our high standards, we terminated their contract,” CSM leadership said in the official statement. “We have done our best to be forthcoming with our La Plata campus community and proactive in ensuring there are adequate food options available as we remediate this issue.”

As of Tuesday, the college announced that it “will be actively pursuing new food options” and plans on “working with area caterers and restaurants.” Food will be available in the interim, however, at the campus store, the new Clarity Cafe and from vending machines.

“Our bottom line is to transform lives through lifelong learning and service,” the statement further noted. “We all do our best every day to provide our students, faculty and employees with high-quality support services in pursuit of our students’ goals.”

This coming July would have marked eight years since CSM established a contract with its cafeteria vendor, which had consistently passed inspections by the Charles County Health Department, the most recent being Feb. 6.

But that all changed on Feb. 13 when the health department conducted an inspection, unannounced, at CSM’s La Plata campus in response to a complaint about pest infestation at the Alexander Cafe.

After being shut down for four days, health officials and CSM leadership allowed the cafeteria to reopen Feb. 18, having been reassured that the vendor would do better, despite receiving documented reports of critical violations including “roach activity” that were observed all over the facility.

CSM was confident that things would get better, so much so that its leadership took the initiative and conducted daily inspections of the cafeteria’s kitchen. However, operations once again came to a halt Tuesday following a spot inspection.

Students, faculty and staff were subsequently notified that the La Plata campus cafeteria was closed until further notice. A press release sent out the same day noted that CSM had “terminated its contract with its current cafeteria for failing to meet contract requirements and comply with standards of care.”

“CSM saw poor practices had reoccurred —specifically, the vendor was not utilizing safe food handling practices,” according to an official statement that was emailed to the Maryland Independent on Wednesday. “CSM leadership announced Feb. 25 that it was no longer confident in the vendor’s performance and terminated the vendor’s contract, and shut down cafeteria operations.”

CSM’s decision comes nearly two weeks after the health department closed the Alexander Cafe due to similar failures. The Maryland Independent previously reported that inspectors discovered food contact surfaces inside of the cafeteria were contaminated by cockroaches, a critical violation which Charles County Environmental Health Director Lisa Laschalt emphasized could not be “immediately remedied.”

All equipment had to be covered, taped and sealed in preparation for an “aerosol treatment,” among other things “in accordance with pest control service guidelines,” according to a 10-page food service monitoring and observation report that the Maryland Independent obtained this week. Consequently, the Alexander Cafe’s food service license was “summarily suspended until further notice,” as noted in a closure statement which CSM auxiliary services executive director Marcy Gannon received on Feb. 13.

In a follow-up report dated Feb. 17, Laschalt deemed that the Alexander Cafe was “okay to resume operation.” However, she said inspection frequency will be increased to “every 1-2 weeks until reduction is determined as appropriate.”

“We’ll be seeing them weekly and then reducing [our inspections] to every other week, and then down to monthly,” Laschalt confirmed via phone on Monday, “until we’re certain that the issue is stabilized.”

CSM’s pest control contractor conducted a follow-up visit last Thursday. Laschalt noted in a separate report that “some dead roaches” were discovered “on non-food contact surfaces” including a trash can dolly, equipment cart/table and refrigerator drain pan.

In addition, repairs to walls, ceiling and door sweeps inside the Alexander Cafe were among several other violations that were in the process of being corrected. The vendor, whose contract with CSM had been active since July 23, 2012, was never investigated for a complaint prior to Feb. 13.

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