YMCA limits food services after complaints, inspections and firings
Staff at the YMCA of the Rockies Snow Mountain Ranch received an email at 3:44 p.m. Feb. 22 from Assistant Human Resources Director Morgan Rohrer. It stated the nonprofit had several reports of staff illness the night before and it was decided to close the Schlessman Commons, its main dining hall, for dinner service that night.
The next day around 1:30 p.m., Rohrer sent another message. It informed staff the Commons had reopened after the YMCA, with guidance from Grand County Public Health, after it did an “extensive deep cleaning” on the dining hall and threw away and replaced all perishable items, according to internal emails obtained by Sky-Hi News.
The Commons opened for breakfast Feb. 23 and resumed normal operating hours, according to an email YMCA’s General Manager Joshua Huggett sent to Sky-Hi News through Feed Media, a Denver-based public relations firm.
Although the Commons remains open, the Skinny Ski Café in the Nordic Center and Buckboard Grill in the main administration building have been voluntarily closed by the YMCA for the winter season. Huggett wrote in an email that staffing shortages caused the closures.
A complaint manager record summary by Hannah Wynd, Grand County Public Health’s environmental health program supervisor, covered the reported illnesses. It stated the YMCA’s Risk Director Kyle Livesay contacted the health department, reporting 10 employees had fallen ill after a staff appreciation dinner Feb. 21. None of the sick employees worked in shared departments or had shared living situations.
Two of the 10 sick employees went to the emergency room but did not receive diagnoses, according to the complaint summary. Public health wrote in an email that it had sick employees fill out an online form to collect information about their food history for the past 72 hours that documented the types and duration of symptoms.
“(The) most consistent food item eaten of those who got sick was the fruit served at breakfast, lunch, and dinner that day,” Wynd wrote in the complaint summary. “Norovirus is suspected due to incubation, symptoms and duration.”
On Feb. 27, four days after the Commons reopened, Grand County Public Health performed routine food establishment inspections at the YMCA’s two other restaurants — Skinny Ski Café and Buckboard Grill.
The inspection report for Skinny Ski, labeled Camp Chief Ouray YMCA on the report, notes six areas where the establishment was not in compliance with requirements related to foodborne illness prevention. The Buckboard report includes nine non-compliant criteria related to illness prevention and three related to good business practices.
Both reports list the inspection result as “Re-Inspection Required.”
Wynd wrote about the inspections in her complaint summary about the Feb. 22 illnesses. When Huggett contacted her to discuss the inspections, she told him and other leadership she “had serious concerns in regards to food safety at the YMCA,” and encouraged them to pursue training and create an improvement plan.
One criteria marked non-compliant in both reports, labeled “Certified Food Protection Manager,” included a comment from the inspector that there was no certified food safety manager on staff, but a manager was enrolled to take the necessary class in March.
In an email to Sky-Hi News, Huggett stated the YMCA has always had a certified food safety manager on staff. He wrote that he holds the food safety manager certification, as did the former food service director.
In response to a question about why the report states there was no certified food manager if there were two on staff, Huggett wrote, “As we previously shared, there has not been a time when we have been without a certified food service manager on staff.”
Both reports also labeled the two restaurants as non-compliant in procedures for responding to vomiting and diarrheal events, having adequate hand-washing sinks properly supplied and accessible, food contact surfaces; cleaned and sanitized, and proper cold holding temperatures.
Observations for those criteria at both locations noted a lack of proper vomit and diarrhea response procedures in place.
At Skinny Ski, other observations included a hand-washing sink without paper towels and a three-compartment sink with a near-empty bottle of sanitizer with improper concentrations. Also, deli cheeses and meats holding at 50 degrees Fahrenheit after the ice below their tray had melted, when they should be at 41 F or below.
Observations at Buckboard noted a hand-washing sink without soap and one with items stored in it, staff not sanitizing wares after washing and rinsing them, chlorine sanitizing solution with improper concentration and a dish machine without any sanitizer. Also pizzas were seen sitting at room temperature that staff then moved to refrigerators.
“Observed prepared pizzas with tomato sauce and cheese sitting at room temperature for
service,” the inspector wrote.
The Skinny Ski report stated the cafe was not in compliance with the “toxic substances properly identified, stored, and used” criteria. The observation read that employee medicines were stored over food being served, when they should be stored separate from food preparation and storage areas.
The observation also stated, “Medication in question could potentially be used for symptoms to exclude a worker for, discussed this with staff and management. Staff was not and has not been experiencing symptoms.”
In response to Sky-Hi News asking for an explanation of that observation, Grand County Public Health quoted a Food and Drug Administration code that states employees’ medicines should be located to prevent the contamination of food and equipment.
Wynd’s Feb. 22 complaint summary described an incident with employee medication, stating that an employee prepping food in Skinny Ski Café had a bottle of Pepto Bismol with them and claimed to have no symptoms.
The non-compliant criteria Buckboard did not share with Skinny Ski included “food separated and protected.” The inspector observed raw animal foods stored, prepared and held with ready-to-eat foods.
Observations included raw beef patties stored over and in close proximity to ready-to-eat items like cut tomatoes, raw ground beef stored over ready-to-eat hot dogs and raw thawing chicken on food preparation surfaces with the potential to leak onto ready-to-eat powdered sugar. There were no observed contaminations.
Other non-compliant criteria at Buckboard Grill included, “person in charge present, demonstrates knowledge and performs duties,” as well as improper drinking practices and date marking.
The person in charge did not assure the completion of food safety activities, like sanitizing and protecting from contamination, according to observation notes. Employee drinks were sitting in food preparation areas and lacking lids or straws, and different types of foods had improper date markings, including items like deli meat and tomato sauce, which were stored in a cooler without dates.
Buckboard also had three non-compliant criteria under “good retail practices.” They were “approved thawing methods,” “contamination prevented during food preparation, storage, and display” and “wiping cloths; properly used and stored.”
For those criteria, the observations noted food items thawing incorrectly, including raw beef rising above 41 F, a spatula dedicated for burger use stored in a food preparation area where ready-to-eat food is stored and soiled rags stored on a food preparation surface that should be in a sanitizer bucket when not in use.
“In close partnership with the Health Department, we have ratified all concerns and proactively requested a voluntary follow-up inspection to ensure compliance, which was confirmed today,” Hugget wrote in response to a question about the areas of non-compliance March 8.
Food establishment inspections have three possible results — pass, close and re-inspection required — and the conclusions are based on a point system. Zero to 49 points result in a pass, 50-109 points result in a re-inspection and 110 or more points result in a closure.
Grand County Public Health did not address questions from Sky-Hi News asking for the YMCA’s point totals, but the complaint summary states that Buckboard Grill and Skinny Ski Café “scored terribly” and Buckboard “was borderline closure for points.”
The health department stated in an email that re-inspections normally happen within 10 days of the first inspection. March 9 was 10 days after the Skinny Ski and Buckboard inspections.
My Health Department, the website where the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment posts its inspection reports, does not have a report for Skinny Ski more recent than Feb. 27 and has no reports for Buckboard Grill posted currently.
Grand County Public Health wrote in an email that a non-regulatory compliance assistance inspection was conducted March 8 at the Commons at the request of the YMCA to ensure compliance with food safety regulations.
In a March 9 response to several follow-up questions, Huggett wrote that the YMCA had “passed all subsequent inspections.”
February 22 was not the first time this year that someone contacted public health about issues with the YMCA’s food services. Sky-Hi News made a public records request for any complaint reports about the YMCA from the past six months and received the Feb. 22 complaint summary and two others from the public health department, all written by Wynd.
“(An) executive chef at YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch is not properly sanitizing knives between uses,” stated the details in a Jan. 9 complaint summary. “Complainant notes that knives are just rinsed in between uses with chicken, veggies, gluten, etc.”
Wynd wrote she had trouble contacting the chef at first, but eventually discussed sanitation practices and the importance of preventing cross-contamination with them.
In the Feb. 22 complaint summary about the 10 employee illnesses, Wynd noted that a “recent hired chef who was part of (an) inspection weeks prior had been terminated prior.”
An employee filed a complaint Feb. 1, stating the YMCA had served raw chicken and moldy donuts and had issues with allergens.
“A joint routine/complaint inspection was conducted,” and it found several violations. She noted that staff was cooperative, a few violations were noted but passed and there seemed to be an attempt by the management to motivate staff to correct violations, Wynd wrote in the summary.
The Feb. 1 inspection report for the Commons totaled six areas of non-compliance relating to food-borne illness prevention and four relating to good business practices.
They included six issues later seen at Skinny Ski Café and Buckboard Grill — “procedures for responding to vomiting and diarrheal events,” “proper eating, tasting, drinking, or tobacco use,” “food separated and protected,” “food contact surfaces; cleaned and sanitized,” “proper date marking and disposition” and “approved thawing methods.”
Observations for those criteria noted employee drinks without lids or straws and some stored above food services, employees drinking while handling food surfaces, raw chicken stored on a cart in a walk-in refrigerator over and next to ready-to-eat foods and raw salmon stored over ready-to-eat rolls. Staff members also informed the inspector that items like knives would be rinsed but not washed and sanitized in between uses.
Other observations included sanitizer with improper concentration, staff members unaware of how often cereal and milk dispensers are cleaned, foods requiring date marks were lacking them and frozen soup improperly thawing on a counter.
Some criteria out of compliance at the Commons was unique to the dining hall, including “proper use of restriction and exclusion,” “proper cooling methods used; adequate equipment for temperature control,” “in-use utensils; properly stored” and “warewashing facilities: installed, maintained, and used; test strips.”
The inspector’s observations for those areas noted staff was unsure of when they were to return to work after being sick, breakfast sausages wrapped in plastic being held in a walk-in refrigerator at 77 F, an ice scoop handle being stored in contact with ice and staff unable to test a dishwasher sanitizer levels.
Observation notes also included a lack of thermometers for manual warewashing and hot water mechanical dishwashing, and a lack of sanitizer concentration test strips.
The inspection resulted in a re-inspection requirement, and on Feb. 9, public health returned to the Commons. The dining hall had three areas out of compliance on its second inspection, including two areas from the first inspection — “food separated and protected” and “food contact surfaces; cleaned and sanitized.”
The inspector noted raw eggs stored over ready-to-eat pancakes and sanitizer with improper concentration.
Areas regarding proper cooling time and temperature were out of compliance at the Commons’ second inspection as well. The observation stated staff told the inspector that soup in a walk-in refrigerator holding at 80 F had been placed there the day before, meaning it may not have been cooled properly before being stored. Staff voluntarily disposed of the 8 gallons of soup.
Firings after inspections
On Feb. 28, the day after the Skinny Ski and Buckboard inspections, the YMCA let go of two members of its food services leadership team, including the food service director, according to Huggett.
He wrote that due to the staffing shortage created by their termination, the YMCA will focus on the Commons for the rest of the winter season, closing Skinny Ski Café and Buckboard Grill and pausing all other food services, including catering.
Huggett did not address a question about the timing of the firings. Wynd mentioned the firings in her complaint summary about the Feb. 22 illnesses.
Huggett wrote that the food service director fired Feb. 28 was the other staff member besides himself who held food safety manager certification. The YMCA’s jobs website listed the food service director and a sous chef position in the food service category on March 9, but the sous chef listing has since been removed.
“The safety of our staff and guests is our top priority,” Huggett wrote in an email. “We responded to this situation immediately with support from our partners at the Health Department. We quickly addressed all concerns and proactively requested a voluntary follow-up inspection to ensure compliance, which was confirmed.”
Timeline of Events
- Jan. 9 — An anonymous person filed a complaint with Grand County Public Health stating the YMCA’s executive chef was not properly sanitizing knives between uses with chicken, veggies, gluten and other foods.
- Feb. 1 — An employee filed a complaint with Grand County Public Health stating the YMCA had served raw chicken and moldy donuts. It also stated the food services had issues with allergens.
- Feb. 1 — Grand County Public Health performs a routine inspection at the Schlessman Commons Dining Hall after receiving the complaint about raw chicken, moldy donuts and allergens. The inspection results in a re-inspection requirement.
- Feb. 9 — Grand County Public Health re-inspects the Commons. With only three criteria out of compliance, the Commons passes the re-inspection.
- Feb. 22 — The YMCA contacts Grand County Public Health for guidance after 10 employees fell ill after an employee appreciation dinner. The YMCA closed the Commons for dinner service, did a deep cleaning and threw away any perishable items
- Feb. 23 — The Commons reopens for breakfast service and returns to normal operating hours.
- Feb. 27 — Grand County Public Health performs routine inspections at the Skinny Ski Café and Buckboard Grill. Both inspections resulted in re-inspection requirements, as they “scored terribly” and Buckboard nearly had to close.
- Feb. 28 — The YMCA lets go of two members of the food service leadership team, including the director. General Manager Joshua Huggett tells Grand County Public Health he will take over food manager duties for the commons and had closed the Skinny Ski Café and Buckboard Grill for the winter season.
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