Students share experiences of undercooked meat, bugs, bolts and food poisoning from dining halls.
BY ERICA MUNISAR, NEWS EDITOR
According to Mason Dining, their mission statement is as follows. “Mason Dining is committed to bringing you the excellence and value you expect. Delicious meals and on trend food experiences that where students and faculty are nourished and inspired to climb higher and to keep rising. Not just a beautiful place to study, but a beautiful place to sit and enjoy food together.”
However, numerous students have alleged experiences of being served undercooked meat, which further led food poisoning among consumers.
Senior Asra Abbas has suffered from food poisoning at the Mason dining halls and alleges witnessing cross-contamination as well as uncleaned dishes.
“I had high expectations for the dining halls at GMU. The quality of the food was subpar, and I was not satisfied with the service either. The food was cold, hard and some items were even undercooked. I have observed undercooked food being served at the dining hall in GMU on several occasions. In my personal experience, consuming such food has caused me severe stomach pain that left me traumatized from the dining hall. I know several others who have gotten ill by eating at the GMU dining hall.”
“I have also witnessed several occasions where cross-contamination was happening between the meats and same spoons were being used. The dishes and utensils provided to us are not properly cleaned, leaving students with no choice but to eat from unclean plates.”
“It is like a lawsuit waiting to happen.”
Senior Cameron Hoagland eats at Southside often and claims he has suffered constant food poisoning.
“Southside has constituted the most of my experiences with Mason’s dining halls. When it comes to the chicken at Southside, I haven’t encountered any raw chicken in my plate, unlike some other people from the reports I’ve heard of regarding undercooked chicken being served in the dining halls. I believe I have suffered from food poisoning. About every week or two I get diarrhea, which I assume came from eating at Southside, which I then have to treat with medicine.”
Junior Ben Gallimore alleged experiences of eating undercooked meat while adding on concerns of mislabeled allergens, citing a life-threatening encounter that caused him to abandon his dining plan in Spring 2022.
“Last spring I got food from Grab-And-Go at Southside. The box was labeled as some kind of steak, but when I brought it back to my dorm and opened it I discovered it was chicken pesto. For most people that is not a big deal, but I have a severe allergy to all nuts to the point that even skin contact with nuts can trigger an anaphylactic reaction, which is life-threatening without immediate medical attention. Thankfully none of the pesto touched my skin, and I threw out the food shortly after. Needless to say, I have never used Grab-And-Go since.”
“I also stopped eating at Southside entirely after I got food poisoning from undercooked chicken.”
On April 17, sophomore Helron Zheng found a metal bolt in his popcorn.
“On my way out of Southside, I grabbed a bag of popcorn to snack on. While I was pouring it down my mouth, I noticed a taste of metal so I stopped pouring and looked into the bag and noticed that I saw something weird. When I moved the popcorn around, I found a bolt in my bag about the size of a fingernail. I started feeling unwell for a while so I was on the phone with a after hours nurse (the clinic was closed). After the call, I immediately went back to Southside to report it to a manager to make sure nobody else ate something like that in the food.” said Zheng.
Freshman Jack Samuel also found a caterpillar in the salad last semester.
“A friend of mine noticed a small green ball in their salad. I thought it was a curled-up leaf at first but after uncurling it I was pretty surprised to find an actual caterpillar. I don’t blame anyone for it being there, it was small and hard to miss, but I’m definitely not getting a salad from any of the dining halls anytime soon.”
Freshman Spencer Wilde complains of finding hair in food multiple times. “I have often found hair in my food while at Southside in the rice, in the yogurt and in the salad. Not only is it gross, but it is also a health concern.”
In the past year, more Mason students have taken to social media to express their concerns about undercooked food from dining halls.
One Reddit post compared the dining halls, claiming “I’ve also not seen raw meat at the Globe and I have experienced that multiple times at Southside.” said /u/ Mrstarkinevrfeelgood.
In another post, one user commented “Southside constantly serves undercooked meat, unlabeled allergens, and is generally never clean, especially during peak times–it’s a mess.” said /u/ solarsaurus.
In a third post, a student claimed they found a rock in their soup at Southside.
General Manager Jenita Thurston responded on the behalf of Mason Dining regarding complaints from students.
“All of our employees receive regular training and instruction about food safety. Our supervisors and managers receive additional training on food safety and ensure all protocols are being properly followed. Our dining locations regularly undergo safety audits by internal teams and health department inspections, as well as unannounced, third-party food and physical safety audits to ensure our food and facilities are safe. Additionally, we only use the highest quality USDA-rated food products.” said Thurston.
“Good hygiene is one of the cornerstones of safety training that our employees receive. This includes personal hygiene such as frequent hand-washing, glove use, hair nets, and clean uniforms; as well as proper food handling procedures, such as avoiding cross-contamination during storage, preparation and cooking.”
Thurston says dining staff follows procedures to ensure food is cooked.
“Knowing the risks of ingesting meats that are undercooked, we take several measures to prevent this from happening. Our dining employees follow stringent government-regulated food safety procedures, including monitoring food temperature during cooking, holding and serving.” said Thurston.
“Ensuring meat is initially cooked to the proper temperature is the first step to ensure food is not undercooked. Color of meat cannot be relied upon as a measure to tell if the food is fully cooked. Sometimes items like chicken thighs will appear pink, even though they are fully cooked. This is due to naturally occurring pigments and/or proteins that may appear red even when the meat or poultry is fully cooked.”
Regarding allergens, Thurston offered resources for students and emphasizedproper labeling. “We make every effort to ensure food is labeled properly and includes identification of any potential allergens. We encourage diners to check nutrition labels and use the Everyday app to see ingredients and allergens. If diners are ever unsure, our team can help clear up any confusion by sharing recipes to show which ingredients are used in a dish.” said Thurston. “
We understand how difficult eating with allergies can be, which is why we offer our Simple Servings stations and Simple Zone to give students dining with allergies peace of mind that the food they are eating is safe. These locations are the only places where we can ensure that there is no cross-contamination with the top eight most common food allergens. We are also working on eliminating serving foods that contain nuts in residential dining halls.”
Mason Dining encourages students to offer feedback.
“The best way for diners to give feedback is to bring us any concerns you have right away. We want to know if there is an issue and make it right, immediately, to ensure everyone is safe. It becomes much more difficult to address an issue after someone has left the dining location and the food is no longer present.” said Thurston.
Students can text tellSouthSide, tellikes, or tellTheGlobe to 82257 to utilize the MyDtxt service. Faculty will respond back as they have added a ramen bar and iced coffee in the past after student requests were made.
Mason Dining can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, their contact form, or speak to faculty in person.
Students can also attend Student Culinary Council meetings and offer ideas to Mason Dining Managers.
Mason Dining has implemented recent initiatives to improve dining quality for students such as halal meats, Kosher options, vegan/grain bars, spice stations, expanded late-night options for Ikes Dining Hall, expanded allergen-friendly options and Future 50 Foods stations for plant-based diets and sustainability.
Mason Dining has offered inclusive meal options for religious students in the past.
“We also strive to accommodate religious observances: we provided fish dishes on Fridays during Lent and held Easter brunches and an Easter dinner; our dining halls had hot kosher meals, matzah, whole fruit and macaroons during Passover; and we ensured that all the dining halls had halal meat and dried Medjool dates, and well as extending hours at several locations, to make sure those observing Ramadan had access to appropriate meals after sunset and before sunrise.” said Thurston.
“Our unwavering mission is to provide our diners with the best and safest dining experience possible.”