by Marla Gagne ’18
Recently, students around the country have been clicking on and reading a newly resurfaced food blog that gave Sodexo, the food server company that serves over 850 colleges and universities, including PC, an F rating.
The article entitled “Is Sodexo’s Food Bad For You?” was published by the food blog “Is it Bad For You,” whose aim is to expose unhealthy practices by companies and leave readers with the best information to make healthy decisions.
Originally written in March 2016, the article has resurfaced at colleges such as the University of New Haven, Le Moyne College, Marquette University, University of Pittsburg, and more, denouncing the food Sodexo produces. The article, written by DeAnne Oldham, claims, “Sodexo is not healthy. They are a mass produced food service company with great marketing. The food may sound healthy, but it is heavily processed and high in carbohydrates, fat, and chemicals.”
The article claims that Sodexo reuses food back to back days, gives students unhealthy meal choices, is highly processed and frozen, and even points to an issue in 2013 where horse DNA was found in some of the frozen beef products in the United Kingdom. Oldham further stresses that the food is high in fats, sodium, and unknown chemicals and may cause stomach discomfort, hypertension, obesity, and heart disease.
The article was approved by Dr. Becky Maes, who the blog identifies as “an author, motivational speaker, nutritionist, and Board of Certified Medical Doctor” and currently as medical director at ForeverGreen International.
Sodexo officially responded to the article in an article “What’s behind the headlines? Separating health and nutrition facts from fiction.” The article emphasizes that the website fails to “offer scientific evidence to support their claims” and reinstates their mission to “help guide students towards the healthiest options…and help students with food allergies find allergen-safe dining options.” They also claim to have reduced an estimated five tons of salt and 14 tons of sugar from their food since the introduction of the Mindful Program in 2013.
Stu Gerhardt, the general manager of Sodexo services on campus, refuted the information from the rating article. First, he solidified that although Sodexo is a global company, his staff of 160 employees and him work for PC first and care about making good food. “It all comes down to the individual school,” said Gerhardt.
At the same time, Gerhardt also recognizes that there are sometimes problems at Ray Dining Hall or Alumni Hall. He remembers a few years back some pieces of chicken not being properly cooked or even recently a student receiving a moldy piece of bread at Alumni. But Gerhardt says the company works to improve upon any mistakes and uses these incidents as “teachable moments” with the staff and works to immediately correct mistakes.
The biggest difference for him is the people, stating that his job is to “manage the food and manage the people.” He, along with his staff, takes “pride in transparency” and looks for student feedback on what they like and do not like. While some students use the comment board in Ray or email him comments, he often finds, that after reaching out to students, he does not get a response back.
In response to claims from the article, Gerhardt assured students that Sodexo uses “reputable vendors and dealers and does reach out to local markets when possible.” Although they do use leftovers, they only utilize products they want to work with that may have not been fully eaten the day served. All food is properly cooled down in machines downstairs before being frozen and labeled.Produce items are delivered six days a week and are fresh, although, because of the size of the College, they must be pre-cut before being sent.
Some of the items that the kitchen must produce in large amounts come in frozen, through an IQF process (individually quick frozen) where something like fresh chicken is delivered frozen and then at the account, it is thawed (following HACCP safety guidelines) and partially cooked in the oven, and then finished on the grill at the grill station at time of service.
Some PC students have been wary of the sanitation of the dining facilities, especially after a recent picture of a dead mouse behind a drinking machine surfaced around campus. Caitlin Rodensky ’19 said she does not have full confidence in the cleanliness of the facility after seeing rats and finding lady bugs in her food on multiple occasions.
Gerhardt says there are sometimes mouse sightings that often come from the dorms upstairs and follow the food or even come out when there has been a lot of construction that disturb their nests. But there is an integrated pest control program that takes care of any problems and Gerhardt says they are “actively addressing” the issue, and are prepared in the event of any future sightings. The facilities are also inspected by a third party agency to check their health and safety standards.
One thing Amanda Lock ’18 and Rodensky agree on is that although there can be good food options, the choices often get repetitive. Rodensky says she would “like to see more options…sometimes each section serves the same food on the same days every few weeks.” Gerhardt says they have recently been expanding their food availabilities, expanding the salad bar to include different options on each side, changing the pizza to full slices, and coming up with different food themes for the stations.
Gerhardt encourages students to reach out with suggestions or new ideas. He says the “cooks take a pride in what they do” and are “not afraid to try something new.”