Residential College freshman Elaine Gordon was eating a salad in the East Quad Residence Hall cafeteria last month when she saw a spot on a piece of lettuce. The spot was small, red and had “creepy, little, spidery legs.”
It was a dead insect – and it wasn’t an isolated incident.
“What seems like once a week I’ll find a bug and flip out,” Gordon said.
LSA freshman Bhajneet Kohli had a similar experience – except the bug he found in his salad was alive.
Susan Hyllested, manager of the East Quad dining hall, said she has received two complaints from students about bugs in the lettuce, but that the problem has since been corrected.
Hyllested said the bugs may have been linked to a new initiative East Quad food services has adopted this year to support local farmers.
The program is meant to help sustainability, because the products do not have to travel across the country, which wastes gas. The program is also designed to aid the local economy.
As part of the new program, East Quad has been buying some food items through different suppliers than the other campus dining halls. Bug-ridden shipments of Boston lettuce likely came from growers in Black River, Mich., executive chef Steven Meyer said.
Meyer said the problem with the East Quad lettuce supply was that it wasn’t put through the three- or four-day freezing process that lettuce coming from across the country undergoes.
Although the supplier cleans and processes food shipped to the cafeterias, a few bugs, usually dead, can often be found inshipments of produce, East Quad chef Matthew Hall said.
Hall also said kitchen staff puts all produce through their own cleansing process, in most cases eliminating sanitation problems like dirt or bugs.
The locally grown lettuce was treated specially, Meyer said, and was often washed as many as four times. An East Quad employee was assigned to painstakingly pick out bugs by hand, but evidently missed a few. Because the lettuce was treated so thoroughly, it was a surprise to the East Quad kitchen staff that bugs made it to the serving trays.
The University’s Department of Occupational Safety and Environment Health performs at least one unannounced inspection of each dining hall kitchen every six months. Further inspections are performed upon complaint or to assure the violations are corrected.
Jennifer Harris, a sanitarian for the department, said if bugs were found in any produce during an inspection, the whole shipment would be thrown out.
During her three years of inspecting campus kitchen facilities, though, bugs in food supplies has never been an issue, Harris said.
Hall said the insects, while repulsive to diners, pose virtually no health risk.
East Quad dining services has recently switched back to a combination of romaine and iceberg lettuce, procured through Simon and Leeman Corp., because of the end of the local Boston lettuce season. Iceberg and romaine are used in the other dining halls.
Other than a few shipments of lettuce, Hyllested said, there have been no problems with the produce East Quad has brought in through its new initiative, including locally grown apples, honey and peaches.
The East Quad food service is looking to expand the program to locally produced tomatoes, beans and grains, which are available into the winter.
This year, Residential Dining Services has been working on revamping food services in several dorms. East Quad’s initiative to support environmentally friendly local growers coincided with the creation of a burrito bar in West Quad Residence Hall and the permanent addition of burgers and pizza to the South Quad Residence Hall menu.