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‘I Could’ve Gotten Hurt’ : Phoenix Investigation Finds Dining Hall Issues

Courtesy of Mareez Saad / Griffin Krueger | The PhoenixThe Phoenix collected accounts from 20 students who said they've either gotten sick after eating at Loyola's dining halls or found something in their food.

Mareez Saad was eating lunch in Loyola’s De Nobili Dining Hall in October when she found a shard of glass in her salad.

“I didn’t see it and I bit down, and thought, ‘Woah this piece of lettuce is really hard,’” Saad, a first-year studying computer science, said.

Courtesy of Mareez Saad A piece of glass Saad found in her food at De Nobili Dining Hall.

Saad said she told the head chef on the day of the incident, and sent an email to Loyola’s Dining Services. They promised her that it wouldn’t happen again and assured her an “excellent dining experience” on her next visit.

“Whatever that means,” Saad said regarding the response. “It was unacceptable, I could’ve gotten hurt.”

Neither the university nor Aramark — the corporation that runs Loyola’s food services — answered questions about this specific incident. 

The Phoenix collected twenty accounts of students who claim they got sick after eating food served at Loyola’s dining halls, or found harmful materials in their food, since the start of the semester.

Elly Heine, a first-year psychology major, said she got sick after eating chicken tacos served in De Nobili Dining Hall.

“Me and everyone else I ate with that day got sick,” she said. “It was awful I didn’t leave my bathroom floor for two days.”

Connor Burke, a first-year biology major, said he’s gotten sick after eating in dining halls twice since the start of the school year. 

“The first time I ate salmon from De Nobili, I was throwing up all morning the next day,” he said. “The second time I got it from the chorizo in Simpson, I got a stomachache that afternoon and threw up a few times.”

Heather Dotchel, a spokesperson for Aramark, addressed the experiences students have had getting sick in an email to The Phoenix.

“Nothing is more important to LUC Dining than food safety and the customer experience we deliver,” Dotchel said. “We take all customers’ concerns about food quality very seriously and investigate every concern that is brought to our attention,” she said.

Aramark has dealt with criticism and controversy at Loyola in the past. In April, The Phoenix reported the Student Government of Loyola Chicago (SGLC) called on the university to cut its ties with the company. This came as a result of allegations of racism, previous health and safety concerns and the company’s connection with the prison industrial-complex. 

“Our advocacy as an organization has heavily been centered on food transparency, safety, accessibility/security, and sustainability at Loyola,” said the speaker of the SGLC senate, Kathryn Caputo.

Leslie Owen | The Phoenix

University spokesperson Anna Shymanski Zach said the university currently has no intentions to cut their ties to Aramark in an email to The Phoenix.

“Loyola only chooses to partner with vendors who align with our mission and values, and we routinely monitor vendors’ business practices and behaviors,” she said. “At this time, we see no evidence to question Aramark’s corporate alignment with the university. Aramark has assured us that they view corporate responsibility as a foundational element of their business model and are committed to integrity, justice, fairness, and respect in their business relationships.”

The Phoenix obtained health and safety records from the City of Chicago’s Public Health Department which showed Damen Dining Hall and De Nobili Dining Hall have both failed inspections on three occasions since 2013. Simpson Dining Hall has failed twice. On several occasions the facilities have “passed with conditions,” meaning violations were still issued. 

Leslie Owen | The Phoenix

As of publication, only Simpson has been inspected by the city during the 2021-2022 school year — an inspection which the dining hall passed. There was a noticeable gap in the carrying out of health inspections during 2020 — with about eighteen months between inspections of Damen and about 15 months for De Nobili due to the pandemic

A failed inspection of Damen from Oct. 21, 2019 found that a variety of foods, including yogurts, cheese, pasta, lettuce, tomatoes and onions were being stored at temperatures between 51 and 60 degrees fahrenheit. Sushi was being kept between 50 and 55 degrees fahrenheit — all about 10 degrees above a safe temperature. 

Cheese and milk were also being kept at 50 degrees. Similar temperature violations were reported in Damen in 2015 and in De Nobili in 2013 and 2015. 

Leslie Owen | The Phoenix

The Food Safety and Inspection Service, which operates under the Department of Agriculture, defines food storing temperatures between 40 and 150 degrees fahrenheit as the “Danger Zone.” Bacteria grow most rapidly at these temperatures, which can lead to foodborne illnesses.

Other students said they have suspected their food to be undercooked. First-year Sophia Ciampaglia explained she’s seen other students post on social media about raw or undercooked chicken in Damen. Saad added that she’s been served pink chicken.

Ciampaglia, an entrepreneurship major, also said she got “mild food poisoning” after eating at De Nobili Dining Hall.

Morgan Weaver said she got sick after eating salmon in De Nobili in October.

“It lasted two days, I had bad cramps and felt like I was going to throw up,” Weaver, a first-year biology major, said. “I didn’t want to eat anything.”

The Chicago Department of Public Health looks for three different types of violations during their health and safety inspections. 

The most serious of these are “Priority Violations,” which according to the department’s website “create an immediate health hazard that carry a high-risk of causing food-borne illness.” Other inspections of Loyola’s dining halls have found several instances of such violations.

A failed inspection of Damen April 10, 2019 found that food on display was not being properly labeled with the expiration date, ingredients, contents, source and a list of possible allergens. The inspection also measured that a variety of foods being served were being kept at improper temperatures.

A failed inspection of De Nobili Oct. 10, 2018 reported the inspector found fifty fruit flies in the facilities. Just eight days prior, The Phoenix reported students were finding bugs in their food. Fruit flies were also found in an inspection of Simpson on Oct. 21, 2019. 

Aramark does internal health inspections of their facilities, which Dotchel didn’t provide details from. Instead Dotchel offered reassurances about the integrity of the food they serve.  

“We maintain rigid standard operating procedures for the entire flow of food production,” she said. “This includes providing an environment that protects the safety and integrity of food from its delivery, throughout its storage, preparation, transport, and ultimately, to the point of service to the customer. Our food safety processes and procedures are industry leading, and if issues are raised we work to fix them quickly.”

Shymanski Zach added a statement from the university regarding food safety concerns. 

“Loyola takes all food safety-related concerns at our on-campus dining locations very seriously,” she said. “Anyone with a concern about their dining experience should speak with a manager or associate on duty in the dining halls or contact Loyola Dining as soon as possible so that the University and Aramark can immediately attend to any concerns, comments, or suggestions.”

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