Dining hall needs better food, sanitation

Kaushik found a bug in her lettuce while eating at Dining Hall West, a campus dining service run by Chartwells Higher Education. Photo by Mithra Kaushik | Mercury Staff.

This story has been corrected since its original publication.

Eating at Dining Hall West has not been a positive experience for every student, especially for freshmen such as myself living in University Commons.

A common fear of college freshmen, aside from failing classes or going broke, is gaining the “Freshman 15.” Unfortunately, the stereotype of not eating healthy and gaining weight in the first year of college is often more true than not. It is because of this that college dorms often require students to sign up for meal plans to encourage healthy eating.

“We offer meal plans so that students have a healthy option to go and eat, so that they are not forced to go elsewhere, such as off campus to fast food restaurants,” said Kathryn Coats, a peer advisor at UC.

UTD’s dorms require students to choose a meal plan with the options of 10, 14 or 19 meals per week.

However, much to my dismay, the caveat is that only one meal exchange can be made per day at an on-campus restaurant, such as Subway, The Pub or IHOP. The remaining meals can only be used at DHW.

The idea of students being forced to eat meals at the dining hall in order to inspire healthy eating is quite ironic to me, because the food doesn’t seem to me to meet all of the health standards, which could potentially have negative results.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services’ food inspection manual, plant-based food — fruits, vegetables and grains — must be cooked at a temperature of 135 F. At this temperature, you would expect food to be cooked thoroughly. So, when I go to the dining hall to eat and find mostly raw rice soaking in water, it makes me wonder if everything is truly up to code. Kudos to those who suck it up and eat it anyway, but it definitely is unhealthy and quite disconcerting.

Even if I am willing to ignore the fact that the food is hardly ever appetizing and disregard the notion that food is supposed to be enjoyed, there are health concerns to address. Those who have eaten at the dining hall can attest to the fact that many of the entrees are not cooked properly or have questionable origins.

“The rice is never cooked. The meat is rarely cooked properly and the eggs taste like they were made from powder. I hate wasting my meals, but I don’t eat at the dining hall very often because of the food,” said Isabel Goldvarg, a speech pathology freshman living in the dorms.

In my opinion, it is hard enough being a full-time student and working two jobs. Food shouldn’t be an added difficulty, especially when I’m spending money for meal plans in the first place.

According to DHW management, however, the ingredients are fresh with sizeable amounts of produce and other ingredients sourced from local vendors within a 250-mile radius of Dallas, in addition to larger suppliers.

“A majority of our ingredients come from Sysco Foods and Hardie’s Produce,” said Quentin Tacker, residential dining chef.

One also cannot avoid the fact there have been more than one occasion where dead bugs have been found between bites.

Personally, it was slightly disturbing finding a dead green beetle in my salad as I sat at the dining hall eating dinner. I’ve always felt the need to inspect my food before purchasing it at the grocery store, but never at places where I have already paid for it. I think it is fair to expect clean, healthy and safe food, especially on a college campus. Finding bugs in my meals was unfortunately not a one-time incident for my friends and I. Going to the dining hall has become a rarity for me because of these experiences.

The management however expressed the difficulty of spotting a single insect when trying to serve 1 million meals per year and that the proper procedures for inspections are, in fact, carried out.

“(Once) the foods are received, we have someone who checks it and that everything is intact and everything looks good and are stored at the right temperatures and in the right facilities,” Tacker said.

Shannon Mariani, the resident district manager, spoke about the inspections DHW receives.

“We are health compliant with the City of Richardson and we get inspected biannually but then we also do our own internal (inspections) which are a bit stricter as far as food safety and sanitation goes,” he said.

While the management takes the measures to follow health and cleanliness procedures, there are still problems that loom. Even if there are no issues with the food, the utensils and dishware aren’t in the best of shape.

“There are often weird stains on the dishes and on the forks and spoons,” said Diego Quezada, an information technology and systems freshman who frequents the dining hall almost every day.

I too have picked up plates, noticed stains or leftover particles and placed it back to try and find a clean one. I don’t feel like I should have to look for clean dishes to use when I come to eat at the dining hall, especially considering the amount of money that is spent for the meal plans which covers the cleanliness of utensils and dishware.

Another issue with the dining hall is the options for those who have different dietary needs are limited, if not nonexistent. Those who are vegan or vegetarian have little to no options for food, especially healthy ones

Riya Patel, a biochemistry freshman and a vegetarian, shared her struggles in finding food to eat in the dining hall.

“As a vegetarian, I can say that it’s been difficult finding foods that suit my dietary needs — which is frustrating especially because the meal plan is required and is quite expensive,” Patel said.

The issues at the dining hall are starting to escalate. What was once tolerable is becoming something to avoid entirely. It’s a new year and it’s just as good a time as any to start changing things for the better. It would be better if those of us eating Kraft Macaroni & Cheese in our dorms could actually eat healthier at the dining hall.

The dining hall management advises students to add suggestions and comments to the wall in DHW to provide feedback and ways to improve their service for students.

It is in our hands to make a difference, starting with the food being served. Start sharing your experiences, suggestions and recipes so that current and future students can have a healthy and happy dining experience at UTD’s DHW.

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