After replacing management staff in the Juniper Dining hall following a photo of a piece of undercooked chicken spread across social media last week, members of USF Dining Services met with students for an hour and a half Monday, listening to concerns and trying to identify solutions in a Juniper-Poplar classroom.
“This has been a time of concern for us, the last few days, especially when we get the comments on the Facebook page regarding the quality of services in dining,” Jeff Mack, vice president of campus business services, said to the audience of about 40 students. “Although there have been a number of changes that have already occurred in Dining Services, we thought that having this forum would give us another chance to get additional comments and suggestions that would be of value to the program as well.”
Students around the room took turns standing up and presenting their individual concerns to dining staff. Problems mentioned included the quality of the food, the number of clean plates and silverware available and the hours that dining halls on campus are open during the week.
One student said he sent an email to an USF dining services employee last October, and recalled what he wrote in the letter for the audience, and said he’s only been to the dining halls approximately 20-30 times since then.
“I pay in groceries nearly half of what I pay for food (in the dining halls,)” he said. “When you think about spending $3,000 to $4,000 a year eating at Juniper Dining or the other dining halls, I think that having a little more than grilled cheese or hot dogs on a daily basis is probably pretty important. I don’t know how much hot dogs cost when they’re bought in bulk, but I doubt its $4,000.”
Another issue brought up by students was a change made in Juniper Dining from providing name brand cereals to generic brand cereal.
“The (change to generic brand) cereal was meant to be added to the program, not completely replace it,” Terry Stevens, regional vice president of operations for Aramark, who said he will be personally responsible for the Juniper dining until a new interim district manager for the operating of the facilities is brought in sometime next week, said. “We’ve added these cereals in all of our operations in the southern region, but we have not taken away the General Mills or Kellogg’s (brands).”
When students asked why the signs changed to generic brands on all of the cereal dispensers in Juniper Dining, Stevens said it was a mistake, and that Juniper Dining was the only one that made a complete transition to generic brands. The mistake would soon be fixed, he said.
Christina Loughren, interim operations director for USF Dining Services, said she has been a part of the USF Dining Services team for three weeks, but plans to “set the level high” and work to fulfill the promises that are being made to students about their dining experiences.
“We’re not going to hide from the issues that occurred,” Loughren said. “We sincerely apologize for the issues that occurred … one being the undercooked chicken and the burnt omelette. It was a mistake, and one of the ways we are alleviating that is we’re going to re-train our staff through a food handler’s certification.”
Loughren also said that employees will be required to carry a thermometer on them at all times to make sure food is being prepared at a safe temperature for consumption.
But not all feedback given by students at the meeting was negative, however.
Students in the audience agreed they enjoyed promotions put on by USF Dining such as “Blueberry Day,” a blueberry-themed menu day last semester in which students were able to get fruit parfaits in the dining halls, and the lid from the yogurt used to make the parfait was donated by dining to support breast cancer awareness.
Some students suggested offering more surveys for students to fill out about their dining experiences. Another suggestion included adding lounge areas and televisions in Juniper Dining to encourage students to stay in the facility longer.
Toward the end of the meeting, Zach Nelson, a freshman majoring in mechanical engineering who posted the chicken picture on Facebook last week that sparked conversation online, said he thought students should be able to know what they are eating in the dining halls, and said he challenged dining staff to evaluate and choose the foods wisely what options they are providing to students.
“Posting that photo… the reason why I ranted in such an off way was because I paid more attention to what I eat,” Nelson said. “And I haven’t really been able to do such, and the dining hall has encouraged me to do that, in a negative way because what I was offered wasn’t what I felt I should be eating.”
A sign-up sheet was passed around the room at the end of the meeting, and Mack said he encourages students to sign-up if they want to attend another meeting by USF Dining next week to ensure that the quality of the dining halls improves, and that improvements continue to be made.12