Originally published October 10, 2012 in The Commonwealth Times
Students often notice birds flitting about the rafters of the Shafer Court Dining Center. The birds may be a spectacle for students, but for Shafer staff, the birds are a health issue that requires constant attention.
Matt Smythe, Aramark representative and the director of operations for VCU Dining Services, spends a few hours a week monitoring the dining hall and working with pest control companies to remove unwanted critters, mainly birds.
They’re a continual problem for Shafer’s staff because they can easily enter through open doors, such as the handicap entrances that remain open during times of high traffic. Removing them is a regular challenge for Dining Service employees.
“We try and capture (birds) with the least amount of obtrusion to the students and the guests,” Smythe said. Dining Services is unaware of any complaints by students about birds in the facility and has successfully avoided any health violations due to rapid response and removal.
According to records from the Virginia State Health Department, Shafer has had its share of violations, including two critical violations during an inspection conducted Aug. 21. Both violations involved keeping food at improper temperatures and both were corrected during the inspection. However, there is no record of any pest-related violations in any of the available inspection reports, dating back to August 2010. Matthew Lipani, central region public information officer at the Virginia Department of Health, said the department was unaware of any complaints regarding birds or other animals in the facility.
“We haven’t had an issue with the health department because … we get it out as soon as possible,” said Kristan Cole, marketing and public relations manager of VCU Business Services. “The health department can’t get mad at us for a bird flying in and us getting it out as soon as possible.”
Pest control and food safety are top priorities of Dining Services. They have a contract with EcoLab Pest Elimination to prevent pest problems and continually work to educate and train staff on food safety.
With roughly 57,000 square feet, Shafer has plenty of places for birds to fly and nest. VCU has contracts with two additional pest removal companies, Critter Ridder and Bee Bat & Bird Men, to rid Shafer of the aviary pests because Richmond Animal Care & Control has declined to get involved.
To capture the birds, the companies track flight patterns through the building and use a special net to hem the birds into a space.The birds are then captured and humanely released outdoors.
Zach Clement, an electrical engineering major, said he noticed a bird in Shafer a couple of months ago flying near the food, and believes it still lives in the building.
“I wonder how it’s getting food … there’s probably some health violation on that,” Clement said. He believes there should be more preventative measures to keep birds out of the building to avoid any future problems.
Dining staff and students first noticed birds flying into Shafer in 2010. Soon after, a bird became associated as an unofficial mascot of the building for students and a bird-inspired food blog and Twitter emerged. The site, ShaferBird.com, tweets the Shafer menu daily and covers other restaurant and dining options around campus.
Graphic design major Eric Johnsen hasn’t seen any birds inside Shafer recently, but believes one still lives in the rafters. He likes the idea of the bird as a character for the dining hall, and thinks other students also like the bird and have not had issues with it.
“It’s just one rogue bird,” Johnsen said. “He doesn’t pose any problems.”
Despite the perceptions of students, one single bird does not live in the facility, Cole said. The famous “Shafer bird” is actually multiple birds that briefly come in and out of the building.