Despite the triple wash process all produce goes through before serving, which includes a food-safe rinse to kill bacteria and other harmful pathogens in addition to two more rinses with water, some students have still reported finding bugs in MDining salads at multiple dining hall locations this year.
MDining serves about 25,000 meals a day and nearly 4 million every year, according to Keith Soster, director of student engagement, sustainability, training and development for University of Michigan Dining. He said with such a large volume of service, incidents like these do happen on occasion.
“I don’t know that we could totally ever eliminate this kind of situation,” Soster said. “But we do everything we can to prevent it. When they do happen, we want to know so we can understand how an object made it on a plate, and work to limit future exposures.”
Nursing sophomore Maddie Jones described two incidents last year in which she discovered undesirable items in her salad at both Mary Markley and Mosher-Jordan Dining halls.
“The first time when I found the bug it was in Markley, and I made my salad and it was all good, and I started eating it and then I noticed something in there that didn’t look right,” Jones said. “So, I took it out, and my roommate at the time was like, ‘That’s definitely a bug,’ and I was like, ‘That’s definitely a bug.’ So I just took it out and threw it away.”
Jones did not submit any complaint to MDining for the first incident. Later that year, she experienced a similar incident at Mosher-Jordan, where she found a piece of metal in her salad.
“But then I found another thing in my salad at MoJo,” Jones said. “I was eating my salad, and I was chewing on my beet and something crunched on my teeth and I was like, ‘What is that?’ so I spit it out and it was a chunk of metal so I was like, ‘That’s not right.’”
Jones submitted a comment card to MDining explaining the second incident.
She expressed her displeasure with the encounters and suggested MDining work more carefully to maintain the quality control of their products.
“I’m assuming it’s because they mass-produce everything, but that’s still gross,” she said. “They could still, like, quality control it.”
Rachel Christensen, food and occupational safety manager for MDining, explained in a statement that these types of incidents most often happen with products that grow out of the ground.
“Where a product grows in the ground, for instance, can increase the likelihood of exposure to dirts, bugs, rocks and other undesirable objects,” she wrote. “We never want to serve a product that contains foreign objects.”
LSA freshman Nora Sharba described an incident just this past February in which her friend found a cricket in their salad at South Quad Dining Hall.
“I came back from the bathroom and all my friends were standing around our table at South Quad freaking out, so I got over there and at first I couldn’t see it because it blended in with the salad,” Sharba said. “I didn’t know what the big deal was, but then I saw the cricket in there and my jaw dropped.”
Sharba said the discovery has prevented her from eating salad at the dining halls since.
“I wasn’t completely surprised because dining hall food can be made pretty carelessly when you’re trying to feed so many people in a short amount of time,” she said. “I definitely lost my appetite though and didn’t eat in the dining hall for a few days — I haven’t had a salad ever since.”
She was disappointed with the apparent lack of care from MDining in maintaining quality assurance over their ingredients.
“I think that the lettuce ingredients should be washed more carefully because anyone who was paying attention would have noticed something like that, and it’s pretty unsettling to find bugs in your food,” Sharba said.
Soster said MDining was not aware of these recent incidents, and has continued to increase the frequency with which they train their staff on inspecting their products.
“It’s unfortunate that the student didn’t feel it was appropriate to ask for a manager because we want to take care of stuff on the spot,” he said. “What I’d like to communicate is: If there’s an issue, let us know right then and there.”
He emphasized students are highly encouraged to approach MDining with the issue so it can be handled appropriately.
“When you approach me in a dining hall and go, ‘Here’s what I found,’ I can go right back to the kitchen and go, ‘Where did this come from?’ and then contact the vendor,” he said. “The emphasis I’m placing here is we want to fix it. We’ll fix it right on the spot. It’s frustrating, it’s unfortunate and we just want the community to know that we keep the highest standards, and we don’t want that to happen either.”
MDining Marketing Manager Kelly Guralewski also highlighted MDining’s readiness to resolve such issues.
“Even if a student isn’t comfortable or a guest isn’t comfortable with going to a manager, they can write on the comment card, email us, send us a message on social media,” she said. “At the end of the day if they do post it for their friends to see, then we’re still going to comment and try to make it right.”
Soster explained when situations like these happen, it is best to report them immediately so MDining can then contact the correct vendor who supplied the product and resolve the issue. Christensen echoed this in MDining’s statement.
“Our first line of defense, and what is critical to our quality control, is that we only purchase food from approved, reputable suppliers,” she wrote. “Any incident of this nature is immediately reported to the vendor to ensure they are held accountable. This ensures our vendors are aware of an issue, so they can review their food production process and adjust if needed to increase safety precautions.”