The Mercury’s reporter Mithra Kaushik reached out to us for a news story and requested to meet with UT Dallas Dining Services staff to conduct a “behind the scenes type of interview, finding out where the ingredients come from, how it’s made and so forth.” What appeared instead in the last issue of The Mercury was an opinion piece about her dissatisfaction with food options and sanitation at Dining Hall West.
Everyone is entitled to his/her opinion, and we truly value all feedback. UT Dallas Dining Services has grown into an award-winning, nationally recognized program in part due to our patrons’ continued feedback, suggestions and support. However, we feel the reporter misrepresented us in her story to support her opinion, and we wish to address a few inaccuracies.
The reporter stated, “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.” In fact, in addition to the vegetables at the stir fry station and the offerings at the salad bar, approximately 80 percent of all options offered daily in the dining hall are vegetarian or vegan.
We learned from Kaushik’s story that we need to do a better job letting you know about these offerings, so we have stepped up with more obvious signage to help diners fill their plates with the healthy options that work best for their dietary needs. Also, shared with the reporter but left out of the story, we opened an allergy-friendly station called Oasis this past fall which serves food free from the eight major allergens, in addition to items that are gluten free. All preparation tools are purple to help prevent cross contamination for those with food allergies and intolerances.
The photo of the beetle was taken over three months ago on November 30, 2016, during Kaushik’s visit to the dining hall for dinner. She did not bring it to the attention of the dining hall staff when it was found. When shown the photo during the Jan. 30 interview, Resident District Manager Shannon Mariani apologized, but also communicated how important it is for patrons to immediately find a manager for any issue.
He also reminded the reporter that there are a variety of ways an insect might enter the dining hall not related to food delivery or processing. However, he was only referenced as expressing “the difficulty of spotting a single insect when trying to serve 1,000,000 meals per year.” At no time do we resign ourselves to the mediocre stance that since we serve such a large population there is the opportunity for any non-food items to appear on your plate. Our team has extremely high standards for service regardless of the amount of meals we are serving.
Throughout the story, the reporter stated she knew of several instances where food was not cooked to proper temperatures or insects were found, but she did not mention these concerns in the interview, nor did she report or provide documentation of these events. Since the dining hall opened in 2014, the City of Richardson health department has never administered a score lower than a 95 out of 100. The last inspection was conducted in November 2016, and the score was a 97. The three point deduction was an equipment issue. All food was found to be cooked and maintained at proper temperatures and no other issues were cited.
The reporter also stated, “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 food, the utensils and dishware aren’t in the best shape.” The reporter did not mention this concern in our interview, so we had no opportunity to respond. The tumblers, dinner plates, bowls and dessert plates are actually brand new.
The dining hall had been previously stocked with ceramic plates and bowls, but due to so much breakage we opted to replace our stock with high-quality melamine. The recent stains which have appeared on some plates and bowls are not harmful. The dishes are properly cleaned and sanitized, but we are working with our dish machine representative to address their reaction with the hard water in the City of Richardson.
Bottom line, we view it as our moral obligation to provide the campus community with food that is safe, provides nutrition and allows the community to connect with each other over a meal. We encourage you to share your concerns or positive experiences with us by scribing your thoughts on our new chalk wall at the dining hall, speaking to our management staff (wearing orange chef coats) in the dining hall or visiting our website at utdallas.edu/dining.
Additionally, we host an open, monthly Food Advisory Committee meeting. The meeting dates and minutes are also available on our website under the “About Us” section. Lastly, we conduct two campus-wide surveys a year. The spring survey will launch on Feb. 28, so please visit our website or look for a dining ambassador in the dining hall to fill one out.
We are committed to providing the campus community a high-quality dining experience, and thank you for your continued support and patronage.
Carrie Chutes Charley, UT Dallas Food & Retail Services Director, and the UT Dallas Dining Services Team