University officials say a wastewater backup in the Earl of
Sandwich Restaurant in Pierpont Commons on Thursday was cleaned
immediately and did not pose any danger to the University community
after it was opened later that day.

The assertions of safety officials contrast with
employees’ claims that the situation was improperly
handled.

The backup, which was caused by a maintenance problem in the
upper-level women’s washroom, entered the restaurant through
a drain in the back of the store, said Fiore Tierno, director for
University Union Food Services. After employees discovered the
backup at 10 a.m., the Earl of Sandwich stopped making sandwiches
and closed for maintenance.

“There was a wastewater system backup. It was small and
contained,” Tierno. “We closed down for 30 minutes at
10 in the morning and notified (the Department of Occupational
Safety and Environmental Health).”

After OSEH was contacted and the wastewater was cleaned, the
Earl of Sandwich reopened at 10:30 a.m., selling only sandwiches
produced in the Pierpont Commons Café Kitchen. The food was
pre-packaged in the Commons Café Kitchen and then taken to
the Earl of Sandwich where it was sold in its prepackaging,
according to Director of University Unions Loren Rullman.

“We were told (by OSEH) that once it was cleaned and
sanitized, we could produce pre-packaged foods,” Tierno said.
“Once the area was cleared and cleaned up, we moved
production to a new kitchen.”

At around 2:30 p.m., employees began using only the Panini grill
in the Earl of Sandwich’s kitchen.

Though business at the Earl of Sandwich was slow onThursday,
Tierno said business was slow in the entire building that day, not
because of the backup but probably due to weather conditions.

But employees interviewed Thursday expressed concern about the
University’s handling of the wastewater backup. An Earl of
Sandwich employee speaking on the condition of anonymity said a
serious sewage backup was present when she came into the store at
11 a.m., and that the “situation just didn’t look
right.”

The employee said the store manager was planning to close the
store down for the entire day, before University officials ordered
it to stay open.

The University had a food sanitarian visit the restaurant and
assess the situation to make sure no employees and customers were
in danger.

“One of our food sanitarians did make an in-person visit
to the sandwich shop and interviewed people, inspected the area and
concluded that everything had been handled properly and that there
had not been a risk to the community,” said OSEH spokeswoman
Diane Brown. “He was told they had stopped preparing food the
minute this occurred yesterday. … The fluids had been
cleaned up and the area had been disinfected and then
re-disinfected.”

No non-University offices were involved in dealing with the
wastewater backup, according to Rullman.

“If it is a really, really bad situation, we ask for help
(from non-University facilities),” Rullman said. “But
because we are a state institution, we conform to all state health
codes.”

The University’s restaurant managers are all ServeSafe
Certified by the National Restaurant Association, Tierno said.
“We would never jeopardize the safety of our employees and
customers,” he added.

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