Several unrelated cases of food poisoning have gone unreported by students after they consumed some spoiled, uncooked vegetables at Dartmouth Dining Service’s Food Court and Home Plate facilities. The three cases, each involving a different type of vegetable, has called in to question DDS food-handling practices along with its methods for obtaining student feedback regarding its food and services.
Consumption of uncooked vegetables often leads to poisoning since improper rinsing and storage can lead to the development of foodborne illness-causing bacteria. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that uncooked vegetables be kept below 42 degrees Fahrenheit and be monitored every 30 minutes to ensure that this internal temperature is maintained. It seems as though DDS is disregarding these recommendations. Former student DDS workers—who did not want to be indentified—have reported that DDS salad bars are not checked regularly and that the temperature is often higher than it ought to be.
Even more concerning are the admissions that the former student workers have made concerning the preparation and rinsing of uncooked vegetables. While the USDA recommends that vegetables be thoroughly washed and checked for signs of decay or damage, the students contend that during their tenure at DDS they often saw employees rush through the rinsing process. As a result, salad and other spoiled vegetables were placed onto the salad bar that would have otherwise been discarded if checked properly.
These admissions have bewildered the throngs of students who depend on DDS for their daily intake of fruits and vegetables. Upon finding out about the recent cases of food poisonings, Rochele Brown ‘13, a vegetarian, admitted that she “rarely eats from the salad bar or uncooked vegetable side items because they often taste spoiled and dirty.” When asked if she had reported this to the DDS staff, she replied “no, because I wasn’t sure if my opinion was representative of most students.”
While it is hard to confirm whether students agree with Brown, the recent cases of food poisoning reveal a real danger that could result from DDS’s failure to seek feedback from the student body about its food and service quality.
In comparison to other colleges, DDS takes few surveys of campus opinion. While DDS has attempted to start a quality survey group among a select group of students in the past, the findings of those surveys have not been made public. Other colleges, like Emory and Harvard, regularly survey the student body at large to get feedback on quality. They then update their menu offerings in response to student needs.
For example, in a 2009 survey of nearly 3,000 undergraduates, Harvard’s dining services found that students thought it was falling behind in its commitment to serve fresh food. Similarly, surveys of Dartmouth’s campus would more than likely find that students are increasingly dissatisfied with DDS’s improper handling of fresh produce.
The recent cases of food illness caused by uncooked vegetables have gone unnoticed because, like other areas of Dartmouth’s bureaucracy, those charged with running DDS consistently fail to seek input. If we continue to depend on select groups of student to represent everyone’s views and experiences in any area of campus, we will never have a meaningful conversation that helps us to improve experiences on campus.
It is not enough to say “we’re here if you want to come talk.” Rather, DDS and the administration must actively seek to implement ways in which the campus at large can efficiently share their experiences. While not everyone will have time or feel comfortable with intruding on DDS supervisors to inform them of their spoiled veggies, most students will have 5 minutes over spring break to complete an online survey that both applauds DDS’s strengths and highlights its weaknesses. And if the survey should reveal that veggies are consistently spoiled and cause student sickness, DDS will have the input it needs to make the change. With this said, I only have one question for DDS—where’s the survey?