‘No One is Perfect’: Student Sent to Emergency Room After Eating at Damen Dining Hall

Rachael Rice, a Spanish and political science major, said she became ill multiple times eating in the dining halls on the Lake Shore Campus (LSC).

Rachael Rice, a first-year Loyola student, was admitted to the Ascension Saint Francis Hospital’s emergency room (ER) on the morning of Oct. 22 after eating a meal in Damen Dining Hall, which she said caused her to become severely ill with food poisoning.

Rachael Rice, a Spanish and political science major, said she became ill multiple times eating in the dining halls on the Lake Shore Campus (LSC). 

Rachael Rice said she first became ill on Sept. 21 from deNobili Dining Hall, and then became ill again on Oct. 10 after eating in Damen Dining Hall. Both times, she visited the LSC Wellness Center, but said she was told she had nothing more than a viral infection. 

After becoming ill twice from the dining halls, Rachael Rice said she no longer wanted to eat at them on a regular basis.  Following Rice’s second time becoming ill, her mother Nancy Rice stepped in and contacted Nickolas Elsberg, the food service director of Loyola. 

On Oct. 21, Rachael Rice said she had the chicken nuggets, chicken corn chowder and the french fries which were being offered for dinner that day. 

At about 10:45 p.m., Rachael Rice said she began to feel severely ill. At 11:30 p.m., she said she called her parents, who live in her hometown of Akron, Ohio. Throughout the night, Rachael Rice said she was consistently vomiting and began to feel faint and unstable. 

“I was struggling to maintain an awareness of everything that was happening around me at the time,” Rachael Rice said. 

At 1:30 a.m. on Oct. 22, Rachael Rice’s roommate called Campus Safety and the Residence Assistant on duty. An ambulance was called for Rachael Rice, and she was transported from her dorm in Mertz Hall to the ER for medical care. 

This has not been the first reported case of food poisoning during the fall 2022 semester. At least ten students have reportedly become ill from dining hall food on LSC since the beginning of the term, The Phoenix previously reported

Following upticks in food poisoning cases among students in 2021, Moore previously stated Aramark didn’t take responsibility for the rise in illnesses, The Phoenix previously reported

Nancy Rice scheduled a conference over Zoom with Elsberg, Terese Sinal, the on-campus dietician, William Moore, the director of culinary, and Dione Moore, the resident district manager, all of whom are employed by Aramark.

Sinal, Moore, and Moore did not respond to requests for comment. 

Nancy Rice said during the meeting, Aramark employees Elsberg, Sinal, Dione Moore, and William Moore spent most of the time explaining what each of their roles were, and speaking about Aramark policies surrounding food safety. When she asked them about their history of struggling to pass health inspections as is shown in the Restaurant and Food Service Inspection Reports, they responded saying “No one is perfect.”

Elsberg did not respond to requests for comment. 

Ainsley King is a first-year undecided major, and Rachael Rice’s roommate. She said when the ambulance arrived, Rachael Rice was not in her right mind.

“She was kind of coherent but she wasn’t really thinking,” King said. “I was asking her what she wanted, but I had to make some decisions myself. She was zoning out.”

King said she was not permitted to ride with Rachael Rice due to COVID-19 policies, which stated she had to be a blood relative to ride in the ambulance. She instead took an Uber and met Rachael Rice at the hospital. 

Rachael Rice said she remained at the ER until 7 a.m. with King. Libby Baird, the Mertz Residence Hall assistant residence director, accompanied the two students to the ER, but left at about 3 a.m., according to King. 

Rachael Rice said had she not been taken to the hospital, she isn’t sure what would’ve happened to her. 

“If I didn’t end up getting medical help, I’m honestly not sure how I would have been able to make it through the night,” Rachael Rice said. “At that point, I was crossing the 18 to 24 hour mark since I had been asleep.”

The two students were given a ride from the ER to their dorm by Campus Safety after Rachael Rice was discharged on the morning of Oct. 22.

Nancy Rice, 59, is a retired district manager for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s public drinking water program. She said her time in this position prepared her for the research she has done in recent weeks on Loyola’s Dining Halls. 

“It is rather disturbing to listen to your child vomit while on a phone call asking what she should do, since she felt ill,” Nancy Rice wrote in an email to Elsberg, which was obtained by The Phoenix. 

Nancy Rice said she was almost positive the illness her daughter had contracted was not a viral one. 

“She is a healthy person and there are no other students she spends time with experiencing this same situation about the same time, so I believe it is related to the food, not stomach flu,” Nancy Rice wrote in an email to Elsberg. 

Elsberg responded to Nancy Rice’s inquiries about her daughter becoming ill the first two times, but she said she wished his response was more prompt considering the severity of the situation. Nancy Rice reached out to Elsberg initially on Oct. 10, but she did not receive a response until Oct. 12. Oct. 10 and 11 were fall break days at Loyola. 

Loyola’s Dining Services wrote of the importance of student safety in an email to The Phoenix.

“Nothing is more important to Aramark than food safety and the customer experience we deliver,” Dining Services wrote. “We take all customer concerns about food quality very seriously and investigate every one that is brought to our attention.”

Dining Services denied any cases of food poisoning in the last two years.

“We have not had any confirmed cases of food-born illness at Loyola this year or last year,” Dining Services wrote. “Our food safety processes and procedures are industry leading; if issues are raised we work to fix them quickly.”

In 2021, an investigation by The Phoenix found a variety of issues with the dining halls, including a student finding glass in her salad and 20 students becoming ill from the food. 

In February 2022, an annual health inspection was conducted for all three dining halls on LSC, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) website. Since then, there have been no other inspections done as no formal complaints have been filed with the department, according to the CDPH website. 

Rachael Rice said she hasn’t been contacted by anybody from Aramark, for either an apology, an explanation or additional information. She was not present at the meeting between her mother and the four Aramark employees. 

In an email to Nancy Rice, Elsberg said inspection protocols have been revised by the university since her meeting with the Aramark employees. 

The email states “everyone” on campus is now required to do a weekly quality assessment, which mirrors some of the aspects of a health inspection which would be conducted by the Chicago Board of Health. Annual health inspections include a focus on food handling practices, product temperatures, personal hygiene, facility maintenance, and pest control according to the CDPH website.

The email went on to say a “Safety Check” is done at random on Mondays during a meal period, which is a shortened version of the quality assessment done the previous week.

The Chicago Board of Health did not respond to The Phoenix’s request for comment. 

King said she thinks the university has continued to mishandle food poisoning allegations. 

“Nothing has changed,” King said. “I have heard of other people getting food poisoning. [Rachael] reported it after the first time, and she still got food poisoning again and again. I really don’t think it was handled well at all.”

King also said Rachael Rice is still suffering from the effects of her trip to the ER.

“It’s been a bit of a struggle for her to eat,” King said. “She’ll eat and then she’ll almost have a panic attack afterwards where she thinks she is going to throw up again. It’s certainly been traumatizing.”

Nancy Rice said she thinks the university should do a better job of making sure they are following all of the health codes, but they should also consider providing a better variety and quality of food. She said she also sees room for improvement in their methods for tracking food poisoning cases in students, rather than dismissing them as viral infections.

“They should find a way to track specifically what may be food borne illnesses through the wellness center and encourage people to report them so that they have data,” Nancy Rice said. 

The Wellness Center did not respond to The Phoenix’s request for comment.

Lilli Malone

Lilli Malone