Despite several health code violations and concerns that workers need improved training, Sodexo officials say UWO has safe food

Ti Windisch

Despite multiple accounts from students about the sanitary conditions of UW Oshkosh dining, Sodexo, the food service company on campus, said all of its procedures are up to health department standards. According to the Winnebago County Health Department website, there were observed violations found in Blackhawk commons in September 2015 including damaged containers of salad dressing and employees not washing their hands before sanitizing water container lids. General Manager of Sodexo Bill Rotchford said the follow-up inspection revealed the issues in Blackhawk and across campus had been corrected. “It was, like, two weeks later, they came back and everything was fine,” Rotchford said. The Health Department website confirms all priority violations had been corrected by the time the follow-up inspection occurred. Environmental Health Specialist Amanda Pinter said UWO does well in ensuring health codes are followed. “UW Oshkosh does great,” Pinter said. “If there’s ever an issue, say a violation, they correct it right away.” Pinter said violations are not uncommon at the beginning of the school year. “Some [of this year’s violations] are repeat violations where I noticed this [same issue] last year,” Pinter said. “Typically it’s because there’s turnover in staff.” According to Pinter, those repeat violations could also be stemming from entirely different issues, such as two related pieces of machinery having problems. “Our inspection sheet has 54 violations that could occur, but within each violation there are multiple problems that can happen,” Pinter said. “It could be a cooler issue one inspection, then a freezer issue next time.” UWO junior Jacob Tennie said he’s not surprised there were code violations found on campus. “Honestly, considering the number of other places I have heard this year getting cited for violations, it doesn’t amaze me, but I am disappointed since I do expect more from a campus that serves over 13,000 students,” Tennie said. Rotchford said his company would not be around if they served unsafe food. “We’ve got to keep people safe, our employees and customers,” Rotchford said. “If we can’t do that we won’t survive.” Rotchford said the myth students get sick from food at Blackhawk has more to do with poor nutritional choices than unsafe food being served. “How much fried foods did your parents give you at home?” Rotchford said. “You had more grease intake in like your first three days at school.” According to Rotchford, a sudden spike in grease or other dramatic dietary changes can indeed make students sick. “That is going to upset your digestive system, if you’re eating stuff you’re not used to,” Rotchford said. Rotchford said reports campus restaurants are giving students food poisoning are false. “[People] say ‘the chicken was bad,’” Rotchford said. “I want to look at the person and say, ‘not that I’m discounting your statement, but if the chicken was bad, 900 people eat the chicken. You know how many people would be sick? 900 people.’” Tennie said he believes the food on campus has made him sick before in his three years of eating it. “I believe that campus food does make people sick, for those of us students with acid reflux and other health concerns there really is no way of keeping from getting sick easily,” Tennie said. Rotchford said Sodexo tries to maintain the highest level of sanitation possible. “We set Sodexo standards that are normally actually higher than the state standards,” Rotchford said. UWO sophomore Aracely Torres said she is comfortable eating on campus. “I feel relatively safe,” Torres said. “I don’t think about it.” An unnamed source who works at a campus restaurant said food safety training occurred after food service had begun in the semester. “They didn’t train us right away for the food safety,” the source said. “I started the second day of school and we didn’t get safety training until the third or fourth week, I thought that was kind of wrong, that we should’ve been trained right when we started.” According to that source, the training provided was not thorough or overly helpful. “We went over a list of things we have to do, but there wasn’t a hands-on anything,” they said. “It was just ‘read this list, this is what you have to do.’” Rotchford said training does occur before student workers begin their jobs serving food on campus. “We do food safety training at our mandatory call back meeting before the semester opens,” Rotchford said. “Additionally, the same training is done with all new hires.” Sodexo Satellite Retail Manager Jenna Janssen said Sodexo student workers receive both introductory and monthly training. “All the students get a brief food safety training at the beginning of their employment with us, and we do monthly training,” Janssen said. Janssen said while employees may not have received on-site training they would still be educated on food safety. “It’s possible they didn’t get effective on-the-job training, but they would’ve had food safety training for sure,” Janssen said. Rotchford said he takes pride in the work his staff does to ensure students eating on campus can rest assured they won’t get sick. “I’m proud of not only what the company does to keep food safe and keep people safe, but what we do on campus and the training and the time our folks take to make sure that happens,” Rotchford said. “My goal is to have the health department come in and find nothing.”