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Undercooked food can be overlooked

Dining Services goes through a longer process when a student recieves undercooked food, opposed to a restaurant, which brings out a new plate of food.

While Dining Services still provides a student with a new plate of food when this type of instance occurs, a further investigation may take place.

“This type of thing is something we do take very serious when it happens,” said Michael Paulus, director of Dining Services.

There have been instances in the dining halls and at campus events where food could have been undercooked, Paulus said.

On Feb. 1, at the Black Issues Conference hosted by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, undercooked chicken was served at a table of 10 people.

While the entire event lasted from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the amount of people in attendance fluctuated throughout the day. However, during the lunch period there was an estimated 100 to 115 people who ate the food, which was catered by Dining Services.

Two buffets were served at this event, offering two entree meals which included two slices of chicken parmesan, rolls, green beans and a salad, which was $20 a plate for attendees, Paulus said.

When cooking meat, chefs are trained to cook it using a four-step process, as well as recording the temperature before it is served, Paulus said. Because this event had more people in attendance than most with two buffets, the last batch of chicken was “only grilled,” Paulus said.

“They did not [bake it] and they did not hit the [correct] temperature, therefore some undercooked product went out [at] the tail end of that event, which one table got,” Paulus said.

Inconsistencies in food and cooking processes can also be caused by the variety of vendors Dining Services uses, said Patrick Hannan, executive chef for Dining Services.

When food is received from either local or national vendors, there are multiple ways it can become contamined such as: being ill-prepared from chefs or contamination from the distribution process from vendors who deliver to Dining Services, Paulus said.

“I receive ‘Red Alert’ emails that identify what is wrong with products so I can check them out if we receive them,” Paulus said. “Then we will recall the item and send [it] back to [the] receiver.”

Paulus said he sometimes receives up to 10 in a day.

If an item is bad or contaminated, Paulus and his team will identify what the product is and determine if it was a distribution problem from a vendor or poorly prepared, Hannan said.

“We usually already know [if an item from a vendor may be bad] before the public knows from the ‘Red Alert’ emails,” Hannan said.

Every vendor Dining Services purchases through must be an approved vendor, meaning they need to qualify their food is safe to consume, Hannan said.

“There is a list of criteria in order to sell through Chartwells,” Hannan said. “If you can’t [track the food], we won’t even consider you to walk through our doors. Public safety is the number one thing.”

Chicken must be 165 degrees Fahrenheit to be safely cooked, according to the Food Safety Government Regulations. Any chicken served below that temperature is assumed to be undercooked or raw meat, according to the website.

Allexis Ervin was one of the guests at the table that was served undercooked food at the Multicultural Affairs event. She ate two bites of the undercooked chicken before she cut into it to see why it tasted odd.

“It was very chewy and after I cut into the chicken I couldn’t believe what I just put in my mouth,” said Ervin, also a student at the University. “I was very upset and had a terrible feeling in my stomach.”

After Ervin consumed two bites of the chicken, she approached Shelia Brown, co-chair of the conference and associate director of Multicultural Affairs. Ervin felt “unpleasant” so she went to the restroom where she vomited four to five times.

Brown was also sitting at the table that was served the undercooked chicken and felt the green beans were not fully cooked either.

“Everyone likes their food cooked differently, but personally I felt they weren’t done enough,” she said. “It was very unlike Dining Services. The mashed potatoes were delicious.”

Ervin was the only one who got sick from that table.

“After I threw up, I was fine until Sunday late afternoon,” Ervin said. “I went to Urgent Care where a nurse told me the symptoms I was having meant I had food poisoning.”

Ervin did not check in to Urgent Care because her insurance would not cover it, so a nurse identified her symptoms as food poisoning.

During an instance like this, Paulus said they contact the student[s] immediately to host a Q-and-A with them figuring out what they ate, what event or dining hall they ate at and how many others ate the food in order to find a common denominator to fix the problem, Paulus said.

“We will meet with the person and get to the bottom of it,” he said.

Ervin said she reached a body temperature of 102 degrees Fahrenheit by Sunday.

A nurse at the Falcon Health Center, who asked to remain anonymous, said food poisoning starts as soon as it hits the digestive system and symptoms can start right away.

“It all depends on how long it takes to digest the food,” the nurse said. “It usually takes four to 12 hours, but it can definitely start sooner than that.”

A lot of times, food poisoning is misdiagnosed as the “24-hour flu,” she said. Symptoms include: cramping, vomiting and a high fever, all of which Ervin had directly following her consumption of the meat at the conference.

As of now, Dining Services is the only option for catering for on campus events.

“If they are going to be the only option, things like this shouldn’t happen,” Ervin said. “Student organizations pay a lot of money to have one option of catering, so it better be fully cooked.”

The price changes depending on what food arrangement an organization wants at an event. It can cost a few hundred dollars up to $1,000, according to Dining Services’ website.

Dining Services immediately gave Ervin and Brown’s table all new plates of food, Brown said.

“Dining Services has served at multiple other events and the food was good,” Brown said.

Dining Services called Ervin and gave her two $10 Falcon’s Nest and a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card to express how sorry they were for the incident, Paulus said.

Ervin said even though she appreciates the gift cards, she was not pleased with how Dining Services dealt with the entire situation.

“We can’t catch everything, but we can identify the problem and do our best to fix it,” Paulus said.

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