Staff Editorial: Food safety on campus doesn't have to be a challenge
AU’s lack of safe food options is alarming and must be addressed
From the Newsstands: This story appeared in The Eagle's November 2022 print edition. You can find the digital version here.
The Sept. 21 health inspection report has confirmed students’ widely held beliefs that the food on campus, particularly in TDR, is not safe. For students with allergies and other dietary restrictions, TDR may be their only choice on campus, as it is the only food choice on campus with gluten-free and allergy-safe options.
The lack of food options at American University is an issue in and of itself. While the AU student population grows every year, the quantity of food options has decreased. Megabytes Café closed in November 2018 following health and safety concerns. It occupied the space next to Starbucks that has been vacant since 2019. In the four years since its closing, there have been no announcements to fill that space with a new student restaurant. In the Mary Graydon Center, the space that used to house Hissho Sushi and Create has still not opened the newly announced restaurants: Halal Shack and Baba’s Pizza. Spaces that provide meals are overcrowded during busy hours due to the lack of options, making it even more difficult for students to eat. Try to get a meal at True Burger in under 30 minutes during the lunch rush; it will prove difficult. AU students commonly joke about how Einstein’s is always out of bagels, the chicken in TDR is always raw or that food poisoning is inevitable. When tour guides are asked about the food at AU, they often either dodge the question or tell potential applicants that it is mediocre. Jokes about the quality of food on campus should not be commonplace. Basic health and safety should be a given considering the costs of mandatory meal plans.
With TDR being the main source of student complaints at AU, the quality of our contractor, Chartwells Higher Ed, comes into question. Nearby, Catholic University also contracts Chartwells for their dining services. When it comes to restaurants, AU had on average seven violations found per inspection and Catholic had five per inspection in 2022, respectively. George Washington University had two, and Georgetown University had four. While this may just be a coincidence, the high number of health violations in Chartwells’ schools brings into question their methods of practice. Perhaps it is time for a new dining contract at AU.
The Eagle Editorial Board would like to clarify that the burden of fixing these issues should not fall on kitchen staff, who may already be working in less-than-desirable conditions. Instead, it is up to AU to address student health concerns, potentially by increasing funding for food services on campus. Students and administration both need to treat the kitchen staff with more respect and kindness. AU should look at other universities, like GWU, for guidance on creating safe food environments. Students expect thoroughly cooked and properly stored food, transparent information, clean plates and silverware, accurate menus and enough accommodations to support a growing student body. AU must be more transparent in issues concerning the health and safety of students. While the public commotion over the health inspection report has progressed, there has still been no communication from AU to the general body. The lack of transparency from AU surrounding these health issues is alarming; a hush-hush attitude does not assure students that we are safe. Administration must restore student trust toward our food and health by being honest about these issues and delivering clear action plans for solutions.