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I-Team Uncovers Health Violations At College Dining Halls

BOSTON (CBS) - Last month Merrimack College in North Andover took drastic action, abruptly closing their cafeteria because it was infested with cockroaches.

The I-Team wanted to know if other college dining facilities had similar health violations. The I-Team analyzed dozens of health inspection reports from 2013-2014 and found one violation after another.

For example, an inspection at Framingham State University found nine violations considered serious enough to cause food borne illnesses. Inspectors found a basement salad prep area which was filled with flies. In another area, there were rodent droppings.

Students like Melissa Greenburg, who depend on the dining facilities at the McCarthy Center, didn't like hearing about this.

"That's definitely not good. I eat there twice a day. Three times a day. So it is definitely a little gross."

Kelly Naeglin, another student, added "The fact that there are violations is kind of disheartening. And really scary, when you think about it."

It isn't just Framingham State by any measure. The I-Team found one report by Cambridge inspectors who chided the Harvard Faculty Club for not preventing problems with pests. Another Harvard dining facility was scolded and told to "Store chemicals separate from food."

A sandwich shop on the MIT campus was cited for not sufficiently labeling ingredients which could cause an allergic reaction.

That troubled WBZ medical editor Dr. Mallika Marshall, who reviewed the reports for the I-Team.

"We have so many more kids with food allergies than we did a couple of decades ago. So if you are going into a cafeteria and it's not clear what ingredients are in the food they are serving, that could cause a life threatening reaction."

Food borne illnesses are very common, according to Dr. Marshall. She said one of six Americans annually has a food borne illness. "There are cases in which people actually die from food poisoning."

The I-Team also found problems with mold. Bridgewater State University had moldy salad dressing containers. Stonehill College in North Easton was cited for ice machines encrusted with black mold.

At UMass Amherst, moldy bread and rolls were uncovered at the Berkshire Dining Commons.

Dr. Marshall said some people can have an allergic reaction to the presence of mold. "Evidence of mold is also a red flag that, this place is not kept clean. Because if mold is growing inside jars or on a drink dispenser, chances are bacteria and viruses are also thriving somewhere else in the cafeteria."

Another UMass Amherst cafeteria, Worcester Dining Commons, had infestation issues with live roaches under a salad bar and flies in and around cabinets.

Dr. Marshall said any kind of bug or vermin can spread germs onto our food. "Any of these pests that tend to live in pretty gross places, they can carry germs along with them. So if they get into your food or your food supply, they could possibly cause problems with food borne illnesses."

A common problem at many facilities was the failure to keep prepared foods at the right temperature which allows bacteria to flourish.

In many cases, the schools fixed the problems once they were pointed out.

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