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Students eat in the Hill College House dining hall on Nov. 28, 2022.

Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

Penn Dining locations received a total of 100 observations of health code violations during their most recent inspections by the Philadelphia Office of Food Protection.

A Daily Pennsylvanian analysis of food safety inspection reports found that a majority of the 12 Penn Dining locations were found to have at least five health code violations. Among these, Hill House and 1920 Commons were issued the highest number of observations of health code violations during inspections conducted on Feb. 6 and Jan. 18, respectively — contributing 59% of the most recent observations across dining locations. 

Hill received 38 points of concern for 16 distinct violations, while Commons was cited for 21 points of concern among eight violations in the report. Due to these observations of violations, Hill and Commons failed to attain satisfactory compliance with the overall standards set by the Philadelphia Department of Health. All other dining locations remained compliant with these standards. 

Hill House and 1920 Commons lead in observations of food safety violations at dining locations 

Food safety inspections are conducted at least once annually by the Philadelphia Department of Health, and the severity of violations determines whether a reinspection will be required. Violations such as rodent and insect activity and accumulation of debris are identified as risk factors for foodborne illness. An establishment is in satisfactory compliance when it does not have health code violations. 

Mapping recorded instances of health code violations among residential and retail dining locations on campus

Click on a dining location to see more.

Barbara Lea-Kruger, the director of communications and external relations at Penn Business Services, wrote in an email to the DP that three Penn dining locations are due for annual inspections in the spring semester. She wrote that Hill and Commons are also up for reinspection because of their current non-satisfactory compliance statuses.

The Lauder College House dining hall and Pret a Manger — which were assessed as not being in satisfactory compliance during inspections in fall 2022 — reduced most of their violations relating to insect activity, debris, and mouse droppings, passing each of their reinspections. 

“When evaluating findings, diners should be most concerned when a facility has repeated violations which are not corrected upon reinspection or when the inspection yields discoveries that reflect severe violations that require a facility to immediately shut down,” Lea-Kruger wrote. “Neither of these events have occurred with any Penn Dining location on campus.”

According to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, food safety violations are classified either as foodborne illness risk factors or good retail practices, with the former indicating a greater immediate threat to customers. Violations related to good retail practices are generally more common across Penn’s dining locations.

Observations of good retail practice violations are more common across Penn's residential and retail dining locations

Although many of the possible inspection areas listed in the report pertain to topics such as utilities and facility maintenance, some dining halls at Penn received comments directly related to issues of food and food-contact surface contamination. 

For example, the Feb. 6 food facility inspection report at Hill listed six separate sightings of mouse droppings, two of which were observed in direct contact with pans and containers of ingredients. Other noteworthy violations at Hill included utensils with dried food residue being left among clean utensils and a lack of sanitizer available at the dining hall. 

The Hill report said that the standards checked by each inspection “control the addition of pathogens, chemicals, and physical objects into foods” and the public health interventions serve as “control measures to prevent foodborne illness and injury.”

Risk factors are improper practices or procedures identified as the most prevalent contributing factors of foodborne illness or injury. Public Health Interventions are control measures to prevent foodborne illness or injury.

Maintenance of physical facilities is the most violated category across residential and retail dining locations

Wharton first-year Ellis Osborn told the DP that he experienced suspected food poisoning shortly after he ate a burger at Hill, which led to him being escorted to the hospital by the Penn Medical Emergency Response Team. 

“When I was at the hospital, they told me that [food poisoning from eating in the dining halls] was very common,” Osborn said. “They said, ‘You are not a rarity among the students at Penn, getting sick from eating at the dining halls.’”

Like Hill, Commons received comments directly pertaining to potential food contamination and hazards such as observations of a cell phone lying on top of a cutting board and “potentially hazardous ready-to-eat food [chicken]” that was not date-marked. 

The most recent inspections of the English House dining hall and Houston Market, both from late 2021, also noted insect and rodent activity, as well as accumulation of dust and grease. 

While ordering an omelet at Commons, Engineering sophomore Hwi-sang Cho said he saw an employee using her hands to transfer the ingredients while also touching the dishcloth used to clean the counter. Cho said that he was concerned about the food being contaminated with the “other stuff she was touching with her hands.”

“I understand why she did that — the line was pretty long,” Cho told the DP. “I guess at the end of the day, she is preparing our food, so it would be great if [Penn] can [remind] the workers to be aware of the danger of doing something like that.”

Director of Hospitality Services Pam Lampitt wrote in a statement to the DP that the office has taken "corrective measures" and encouraged students to contact the manager at any location where they see problems or have concerns. 

“Providing a clean and safe dining experience is our highest priority and formal Health Inspections supplement our own efforts to ensure that we maintain a high standard,” Lampitt wrote.