College issues statement on ‘Englar Dining issue’

Photo by Kyle Parks.Photo by Kyle Parks.

The McDaniel College administration released a ‘Response to Englar Dining issue’ memo to all undergraduate students Wednesday night, one day after a Facebook post published by a student demanding change received over 300 shares from the College community.

“McDaniel has a longstanding relationship with our food service partner Sodexo and has always held them to the highest level of accountability,” the memo, emailed to students, reads. “The College has been made aware of posts circulating on social media that include photos of past incidents that occurred in Englar Dining Hall and were addressed at the time by Dining Services. Nonetheless, these issues are concerning.”

The statement outlines the following requirements the College has put in place for Sodexo:

  • Provide a comprehensive report, including investigation and resolution steps that were taken on all recent food-related incidents
  • Discontinuation of products from any vendor that has come into question by the campus community
  • In addition to the ongoing monthly “Dinner on Us” student feedback program, create a new initiative that allows for immediate feedback when an issue or concern arises

Also announced was the arrival of members from Sodexo headquarters to campus Wednesday to begin an examination of the food services on campus and address the above demands.

When contacted for comment, Sodexo General Manager Rita Webster said she was “also under audit” and unable to speak to the College’s statement or the alleged food services issues.

Other Sodexo officials were unavailable for comment Thursday.

Multiple McDaniel-monitored Facebook groups show a storied history of food service issues and complaints at the College.

Some posts date back to early September of this academic year, with monthly discussions garnering double digit comments from frustrated parents.

“My daughter has consistently informed me that whenever there is chicken on a bone served, it is undercooked,” said Jamie Honick, author of the post, in a message to the writer. “She has also told me that the rice, pasta and vegetables are also undercooked, and most of the food is bland.”

When tagged in a comment on the post, Webster offered few words that satisfied the disappointed parents.

“The fried chicken we serve is precooked,” the post writes. “The piece looks like a leg which is darker meat. The color can appear pink from being frozen. We follow all food safety guidelines and cook food to the correct temperature. Any student or parent may contact me directly at rwebster@mcdaniel.edu to discuss our procedures.”

“If that is the quality of correctly cooked chicken,” said Honick, “it is time to find better food.”

While the USDA does note that color isn’t always the best indicator of cooked poultry, the incidences of allegedly raw meat at the College highlight a bigger issue.

Sodexo has come under fire in recent years on allegations of health violations, contract complications, bypassing competitive bidding processes, and investments in the privatized prison industry.

Other colleges across the nation have also reported issues with Sodexo and the quality of food available to students under Sodexo’s control.

According to the Stony Brook University student newspaperThe Press, the University voted in January to commence “a bidding process that could prematurely end current campus food supplier Sodexo’s five year contract.”

“Unfortunately our partner (Sodexo) continued to fall short of expectations as demonstrated by quality assurance reports and customer satisfaction data,” a Jan. 9 email to Stony Brook students read.

Like McDaniel, The Press reports multiple Facebook posts showing pictures of raw meat and student complaints.

“Food service at McDaniel has been an issue since the second I stepped foot on campus,” said English major Kyle Granger, author of the McDaniel-viral Facebook post. “One of my housemates hasn’t had a meal plan here since 2015 because of it.”

Granger hopes that the recent recognition of student and parent complaints and the College’s emailed statement mean that change is coming.

“It was a good start that the administration [is] taking this seriously enough to address the entire undergraduate population and multiple parent pages,” he said.

But Granger also feels as though the email felt hollow.

“The email felt as if it [was] just a carefully worded version of ‘we will look into it but then do absolutely nothing,'” he said. “Not three hours after the email was sent out, there was already people commenting on my original post with a picture of unclean utensils and reports of having to throw out or return inedible food.”

Reports of unclean utensils were addressed in a Facebook comment by Operations Manager Michael Greczy to the tune of what Granger called “blaming of the problems on the employees.”

Greczy’s comment, since deleted but saved by a student, highlights Sodexo’s employment program for developmentally disabled individuals.

“In order to supply opportunities to people with developmental disabilities,” it reads, “we provide them with jobs in our dish room. Unfortunately they don’t always catch food residue left on the plates and silverware.”

Greczy could not be contacted for comment.

Other students commented on Granger’s post with pictures of their own encounters with poor food in Englar Dining Hall.

“I had a person reach out with a photo of a bolt in her salad,” said Granger.

He reports the student was given $50 in McDaniel Bucks by the College and told to not make a big deal about it.

Other students messaged Granger in whatever way they could with their contributions to the growing collection of evidence.

“It all just serves as tangible proof that I’m not alone in the sentiments I expressed through my post,” he said.

The College said in their statement that incidents that occurred in Englar Dining Hall have been addressed, but students and parents are yet to be satisfied.

“This is such a disappointment because she loves the school and is thriving,” said Honick.

Reportedly, some parents are sending hundreds of extra dollars to their students so they can afford to shop at grocery stores to make sure they eat enough.

“It is sad that she is paying a huge portion for inedible food,” said Honick of her daughter’s financial situation.

Despite the College’s longstanding relationship with Sodexo, they claim to have begun reviewing alternative vendors that serve colleges and universities, a sign of progress that Granger likes to see.

“If I could make something clear to the administration on behalf of the student body,” Granger said, “it’s that until actual change occurs, words mean nothing. The administration’s actions need to be so loud that we are deaf to their words.”