Dining Services: Students safe from salmonella

It’s something students do everyday, but they usually don’t stop to consider if it might kill them.

The safety of food was brought into question this summer with the much-publicized outbreak of salmonella across the country that lead to the deaths of at least two people.

Sodexo, the company in charge of Dining Services at TCU, knows how important it is to serve students safe food, said Legia Abato, marketing manager for Dining Services.

“We take food safety very seriously,” said Abato. “The different vendors we contract with to buy food from go through a very rigorous process of inspections. We can’t buy food from just anybody.”

From April through August, there were 1,442 reported cases of salmonella spread out across 43 states, the District of Columbia and Canada, according to an Aug. 25 report on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. More than 500 of those cases were in Texas alone.

The outbreak was first linked to tomatoes and later to jalapeno and serrano peppers from Mexico. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has since lifted its warning to avoid those items.

Abato said she and all Dining Services employees know that providing safe food for students is critical.

“We have lots of layers within the company to make sure that we are taking care of our customers and we are following proper food handling procedures as we cook the food,” Abato said.

Sodexo uses programs like the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point to help ensure the quality of the food served at TCU, according to Stan Rush, human resources manager for Dining Services.

As explained on the United States Department of Agriculture Web site, “Hazard Analysis and Control Points is a production control system for the food industry. It is a process used to determine the potential danger points in food production and to define a strict management and monitoring system to ensure safe food products for consumers.”

HACCP logs allow Sodexo to document every process the food it serves at TCU goes through.

“It’s a self-auditing system, so we can address any of the areas where food safety could be a concern,” Rush said. “All along the way we try to keep the food safe based on those standards.”

According to spokesperson Monica Zimmer, Sodexo actively monitors information on food products and can send out nationwide alerts to its entire system, which includes about 600 campuses across the country.

Other safety precautions like random audits and the use of approved vendors are also in place to keep food safe, Abato said.

The salmonella outbreak this summer had little effect on TCU, Abato said.

NRG, located in the University Recreation Center, was the only dining location open on campus during the outbreak because of construction. The sandwiches offered there were made without tomatoes for a short time, Abato said.

Rush said measures are in place to locate and identify harmful food in the event of a student contracting a foodborne illness.

“We gather all the information, including what the person had to eat and drink for the last 72 hours. We want to see if the things that we’re serving could have been unsafe or if it could have been something else,” Rush said. “We’ve had some complaints that have been tracked to other areas.”

Even with the recent issues, students voiced little concern when asked about the safety of the food they eat on campus.

“I never worry about the food being safe,” said Kate Bailey, a senior nutrition major. “They have strict regulations and strict things that everybody’s trained to do. I know that the staff is making sure everything is safe.”