Photo by Joseph Lachance | Ram Escape fell victim to a fruit fly infestation, causing employees to kill off the flies during their shifts.

Article by Andrew Main and Kayla Michaud

Flies in Ram Escape have caused the University of Rhode Island’s Dining Services to take action to improve sanitary measures.

Ram Escape is one of the University’s retail food outlets and is located in the lower level of the Memorial Union. Jo-Anne Stephens, an associate administrator of Retail Operations for Dining Services, said the issue started towards the end of the 2018 spring semester. The issue continued through the summer and into the 2018 fall semester.

“I think this was a bumper crop year for fruit flies, not just at the University but all over,” Stephens said.

Pierre St-Germain, the director of Dining and Retail Food Services, said preventing fruit flies is difficult unless extreme measures are taken because of how easily fruit flies get into an area.

“Anyone can bring [fruit] with the eggs on it and throw it in the trash and they hatch,” Germain said. “Then, suddenly they’re everywhere.”

One Ram Escape employee, who wished to remain anonymous, said he has killed over 100 flies during one shift. Employees were given two electric fly swatters in an attempt to reduce the number of flies. When the issue continued into the fall, exterminators began to come once or twice a week to treat the area.

“Jo-Anne [Stephens] has done a good job of contacting or working with facilities services to make sure we have a more stringent pest control,” St-Germain said. “Pretty much every school does regular pest control in one way or another and the older the building the more you have to do that.”

The Ram Escape employee confirmed that after the exterminators came there were less flies and less of a need to use electric fly swatters. Even when the flies were most abundant, St-Germain and Stephens do not think the flies came in contact with the food.

“Almost everything we have here is packaged besides the smoothies,” Stephens said. “Everything is wrapped and nothing is prepared here.”

While the fruit flies have not been found directly in the food, the Ram Escape employee said flies have been found on the surfaces of machines, especially the pizza heaters and on the walls behind the smoothie machine.

As a retail food outlet, Ram Escape is required to undergo annual health inspections. Stephens said that they have never failed an inspection. While fruit flies have been an issue all over the state, there are several specific causes that may have contributed to the issue in Ram Escape.

According to Stephens, old cabinets that expanded around pipes was one of the major causes of the issue because syrup had gotten underneath the cabinets which attracted the flies. However, maintenance did remove that piece of cabinet to clean it.

Additionally, maintenance to Ram Escape and the Memorial Union as a whole has not been done because the entire building will undergo renovations in the coming years. Dining Services has considered precautionary measures to reduce the number of flies, such as the special type of lighting used that are designed to repel flies. Other measures have been discussed as well.

“There are things we have talked about implementing, such as removing the nozzles to soda machines at night to soak them to prevent access to the fruit flies,” St-Germain said.

Now that it is becoming cooler outside the flies have become less of an issue. St-Germain and Stephens said that even as the fruit fly issue has started to end, food safety and customer service remain Dining Service’s first priority. Stephens said they want students, which are typically the customers of the retail outlets, to always be happy with the service provided.

“We don’t want [students] to feel as if they shouldn’t come to a place because it’s not being serviced correctly,” St-Germain said. “We take all of our establishments, whether they’re the dining halls or retail units, we take their cleanliness and sanitation very seriously.

St-Germain said Dining Services has also talked to Student Senate about potentially creating a student-advisory board that works with Dining Services to discuss students opinions and voice concerns.