Mouldy bread, undercooked meat among complaints about food served at MUN residences

Four years after Memorial University students complained about the food provided on campus by Aramark, new problems are opening another can of worms for the caterer.

Newest complaints of unsafe and unsanitary food come 4 years after past issues with Aramark

After there were complaints of mouldy bread served, the loaf in question was removed and others were checked, Meaghan Whelan said. (Submitted by Justin Thomas)

When Justin Thomas moved into the Hatcher Residence for his first year at Memorial University in St. John's, his friends told him he'd probably go to his room and throw up after his first meal in residence.

That didn't happen, but it was still discouraging, Thomas said.

"Since then it's pretty much been a downhill slope of inconsistency with the food taste," said the student, who has started a Change.org petition to address what he and other students say is food that is unappealing, undercooked — even unsafe.

In the petition, which now has more than 1,200 signatures, Thomas said complaints about the food being undercooked or mouldy are common and students have contracted food poisoning after eating on campus.

MUN student Justin Thomas says the quality of the food provided to students in residence does not represent value for the money it costs. (CBC)

He himself noticed undercooked, bloody chicken a few weeks ago, he said. Other students have shared photographs online showing mouldy bread, hair on their plates, or a piece of steel wool on an apple.

University aware of complaints

Memorial became aware of student complaints via social media, said Meaghan Whelan, the university's manager for digital communications and content strategy. 

Thomas says he opted not to eat what appeared to be undercooked chicken, but getting his food elsewhere is not an option. (Submitted by Justin Thomas)

One of the issues brought up was mould on a piece of bread, Whelan said. "In that instance, that loaf was immediately removed and the supply was checked to ensure there was nothing else."

The school is aware of other complaints, including chicken cartilage in chicken soup, and is working with Aramark and student representatives for the residences to address any complaints, she said. There were already checks in place at meal services and those will continue, but the school will also speak with students with concerns and residence committees.

"Food quality is very important. Food safety is extremely important," Whelan said.

'I can't afford to eat out'

Issues with the food quality are not a one-time problem, but ongoing, Thomas says. (Submitted by Justin Thomas)

Thomas said he has brought up the issue with the university's student union and MUN dining services, but pointed out  this isn't the first time there have been complaints about Aramark's services at Memorial.

In 2015, students posted on social media alleging Aramark served them mouldy lemons, undercooked pork and bugs.

At the time, Aramark said they were in compliance with safety and sanitation rules and that they would do a health and safety audit with an independent company. New processes were put in place to address the issues, Whelan said, and her understanding is that things are working well now. 

"We want students and parents to feel comfortable knowing that they are getting good quality food here at Memorial."

But Thomas said he doesn't have that confidence — his parents are both professional chefs, and he said they wouldn't serve the food students are receiving.

He and other students don't have much choice about eating the food, he said. The meal plans for students living in the Macpherson College and Paton College residences are mandatory and cost $2,535 in the fall 2018 semester and $2,655 in the winter 2019 semester, according to Memorial University's website.

"I can't afford to eat out. I can't afford to buy groceries," Thomas said. 

"And I'm not the only one who can't afford this, because we're paying so much already."

'A lot of people are just being picky'

Outside of the R. Gushue Hall three second-year students disagreed with Thomas. 

William Hickey told CBC News he is happy with his food selection.

"Some people, it seems, are expecting a steak dinner every night," he said.

"I don't know how feasible that is when you are serving such large masses. No one is forcing people to eat there."

Second-year students Connor Savage, William Hickey and Tanner Kennie stood up for staff at the dining hall. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Tanner Kennie agreed with Hickey and commended the work that the Aramark staff were doing to provide three meals a day. 

"It's going to be hard to satisfy everyone, but I feel a lot of people are just being too picky and being a little bit ungrateful," he said.

Aramark said in a statement to CBC News that "nothing is more important to us than food safety and the customer experience we deliver."

The company said it had "reached out to the student who started the petition" and encourages anyone with a concern about their dining experiences to contact them.

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