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Forums held by USF Dining had students crawling for answers

Days after an unidentified bug was found in a student’s brussels sprouts, USF Dining held public forums to address concerns from students. ORACLE PHOTO/HANNAH HALILI

With over 7,000 students with meal plans and serving over one million meals a year, USF Dining’s made it a priority to hear student concerns and take direct action after its controversial bug issue.

After Saturday’s post on Facebook from freshman Morgan Jehlen of an unidentified bug in her brussels sprouts, USF Dining responded by posting a written letter in the Family and Friends Facebook group and hosting two public forum discussions, on Tuesday and Wednesday from 6-8 p.m.

“Our team is aware and working diligently on actions moving forward,” USF Dining said in the letter. “There is nothing more important than the safety of our products we serve and the environment we serve them in.”

USF Dining said in the letter there are multiple factors that could have created the unwanted outcome. The letter said all produce undergoes a precise washing procedure. Management is also expected to retrain the entire culinary team on the specific procedure for handling brussels sprouts.

In addition to the two forums, USF Dining has plans for forums multiple times a month. Exact times and locations are yet to be decided.

About 20 students attended the first twoforums. Students have been very vocal about their concerns with campus dining. Some topics discussed included more dining options late at night, dietary restrictions and comments on the allegedly contaminated and undercooked food.

Representatives from USF Dining were present, including Director of Operations Ryan McElhaney, Marketing Director Jessica Cicalese, Marketing Coordinator Sydney Kotoch, Manager of The Hub Brenda Jackson-Lee and Registered Dietician Sierra Ditto.

“There are a lot of things we want to improve on,” McElhaney said. “The focus of this [public forum] is to make sure we are improving the right things. There is no one here more important to us than [the students].”

Students were not hesitant to come prepared. Freshman Lyndsey Jeunelot arrived with a handwritten list of topics regarding dining that she wished to change, including suggestions to improve late-night dinners at The Hub.

“I am a student who works,” Jeunelot said. “A lot of times, I don’t get out of work until 10:30 to 11 p.m. With that, I also like to eat healthily. When I get to The Hub after work, the only things left to eat are cereal and pizza. It makes it hard for me to be healthy with that being said.”

Suggestions included making food to order to prevent waste and clearer communications on the available food at certain times.

Students also complained that chicken at Argos Exchange was “pink,” “rubbery” and appeared to be “undercooked.”

McElhaney explained it was due to a different meat product used.

“The chicken used was dark meat,” McElhaney said. “I went through immediately and looked at a pan of chicken to see a pinkish hue to it. It did measure to be cooked to 175 degrees. But because of the comments, we have switched back to white meat.”

In addition to the many concerns, both students and staff were open and understanding to all statements. Many positive comments emerged in the conversation, including thankful regards from the students present.

“I am really thankful [USF Dining] put together this meeting,” Jeunelot said. “When I had problems, I had no idea who to go to or contact.”

USF Dining hopes that future forums will not only improve dining halls but also create better communication between students and staff.

“We serve a tremendous amount of students on campus every day and it would be naive to think that mistakes will not be made,” McElhaney said. “I want to make sure that the USF community knows that if there is a mistake, we take it very seriously. These forums will start with, ‘Here is what we heard and this is what we changed.’”