As the nation’s consumers are digging out their recalled pot pies and ground beef to throw them into the trash, University Dining Services is looking to prevent students from being afflicted by food-borne illnesses.
“I think consumers these days are pretty cognizant of proper food handling,” UDS assistant director Karen DeVet, said. “If they would see somebody handling food in such a way that they weren’t comfortable with, they would make a comment about it.”
UDS’s food-safety controls, the University’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety’s ServSafe program are designed to prevent the spread of food contamination in residential dining halls.
ServSafe is a certification program in which UDS managers are trained and tested on food handling and safety, DeVet said. The DEHS also periodically inspects dining halls to make sure safety practices are being upheld.
The many facets of food safety include personal hygiene, proper food storage and time and temperature controls, DeVet said, and are among the most important aspects to such prevention.
Although DeVet said UDS has never had a problem with food-borne illnesses, she also said consumer confidence issues have led it to discontinue certain food items, such as spinach in 2006.
“We may from time to time make those decisions, but they’re very infrequent,” she said. “We know almost immediately if we have purchased a product for which a recall has been issued.”
UDS officials denied a Minnesota Daily request to visit University dining hall kitchens.
Craig Hedberg, associate professor of environmental health sciences, said most food-borne illness outbreaks occur because kitchen employees go into work when they are sick.
“The most important thing to prevent food-borne illness in a restaurant setting is for food workers to recognize that their health and hygiene habits are important,” Hedberg said.
Biology first year Elizabeth Ongeri ate meals in Centennial’s dining hall this past summer, but said she was not completely satisfied with the experience.
“Some of the tables were not as clean as I expected them to be,” she said.
Ongeri said she now eats at restaurants more often than not.
The University operates under the policies and guidelines of ARAMARK, the food provider for the University, in regard to how to maintain and increase food safety, DeVet said.
Though ARAMARK prepares food for the University, it buys products from distributors such as SYSCO, ARAMARK spokeswoman Karen Cutler said. Before it makes deliveries to the University, ARAMARK evaluates food it receives from manufacturers.
“All the products that we purchase (from) suppliers are put through a really extensive supply-chain system,” Cutler said.
From the moment UDS receives food shipments to the point of service, there are several critical control points at which food needs to be checked, DeVet said. Food is delivered on temperature-controlled trucks and is visually inspected as it is placed in proper storage.
Food recalls and the possibility of food-borne illness keep the public on its toes and more aware of personal hygiene, Hedberg said.
“It helps us to remember how important every little precaution may be for preventing the next occurrence of a problem,” he said. “The publicity about food-borne disease can be a valuable reminder that there are a lot of daily details that we need to be aware of.”
Dining hall employees are not the only ones who need to be conscious of their cleanliness, Hedberg said. As consumers, students need to be aware of their hygiene in dining halls.
“Hand washing can’t be emphasized too much,” Hedberg said. “If students are aware of how important hand washing is they can really help Ö lower their risk of getting food-borne disease.”