Some students recently attested to seeing undercooked chicken in the Colorado State University dining halls, and photos have surfaced of this as well. However, there have not been any documented cases of foodborne illness or food poisoning from dining hall undercooked chicken, according to CSU Nutrition & Wellness Programs Manager Brittney Sly.
There was a documented instance of undercooked chicken at the dining halls dealt with by Residential Dining Services in August 2021. Director of Communications and Sustainability for Housing & Dining Services Marianne Wieghaus said photos from this incident have resurfaced.
“We’ve noticed that the pictures of the chicken from August have been perpetuating a lot of online fear recently, people thinking that they’re new pictures,” Wieghaus said.
“I can’t remember any times where I’ve specifically gotten sick, but there’s been times when I’ve cut into (chicken sandwiches) and just not been able to eat it,” said a CSU resident assistant who asked to remain anonymous . “My first year, my suitemates got sick, and I’ve also had residents complain about the chicken,” they said.
Director of Residential Dining Services Liz Poore said RDS is aware of the concerns, especially surrounding chicken, and has done its best to minimize these concerns with proper food safety procedures. sly explained the dining halls have rigorous safety procedures designed to minimize cross-contamination and make sure food items are fully cooked before being served.
“We practice specific line methods to make sure that the chicken stays out of the danger zone — … making sure it stays within its temperature limits,” Sly said. “We will cook the food to the required minimum internal temperature, which is 165 degrees.”
Sly also said there are time limits for food to sit out for service and CSU pulls their food items after 30 minutes if they have not been eaten, as opposed to ServSafe’s, a program from the US National Restaurant Association that administers food and beverage safety training certificates, advised four hours. “We want to be safe,” Sly said.
Additionally, CSU’s Environmental Health Services does routine inspections at the campus dining halls.
“The EHS, who is our authority over food inspections, had some concerns or complaints made about chicken,” Poore said. “(They) came over (Feb. 8) and talked to the four areas that had served the chicken and asked them specific questions to make sure that they were following the proper procedures. (They) wrote us a statement saying that (they) could find nothing wrong in what we were doing or how we were doing it.”
Kori Wilford, a spokesperson for the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment, said, “(LCDHE) is aware of the concerns; CSU is the lead agency looking into them. We take all instances of foodborne illnesses seriously and have been available to work with partners at CSU as needed.”
Even with such rigorous food safety procedures in place, there are still occasional causes for concern over food safety in the dining halls. The RA said they think it could be due to understaffing. “It’s pretty clear this year that they’ve been getting students struggling to work,” they said.
“We’ve struggled with staffing all year,” Poore said, noting that the applicant pools have decreased since the onslaught of COVID-19. “When we went back to start hiring, there wasn’t the applicant pools that we were accustomed to before. It used to be… 10-15 people who would want to work. … We would post the position, and there would be like three or four (applicants).”
The RA also said hours at the dining halls have changed because of understaffing.
“The hours have changed compared to, say, two years ago,” they said. “Durrell’s not even open — just the express.”
Poore also said RDS made a major switch in service.
“We had all-you-care-to-eat and some convenience stores,” she said. “We were forced to flip to where we had to both prepare the food, put it in a container and have the student actually make a reservation to come up and pick up the food. We didn’t even have the right tech systems to handle that. We had to buy into a technology system that would help us, like a Grubhub (concept) that would help us out. … We had to switch our services really, really fast.”
Though understaffing is a concern, there is no proven correlation between understaffing and the undercooked food incidents.
“In this example of the chicken that happened back in August, there was two different occasions they didn’t (measure its temperature) after it got out of the fryer,” Poore said, noting students may have concerns about their food due to human error. “If they would have, they would have realized that it’s not getting to the proper 165 (degrees); the chicken’s not done.”
Because concerns about the chicken incident since August have been recirculating, Wieghaus said, “We just sent out an email to all of our resident students emphasizing, ‘Let us know if you think there’s an issue,’ and an email address to contact. The other thing you can do is reach out to the manager on site that there’s something that’s wrong.”
The best thing a student can do if they are concerned about the condition of food they’ve been served is report it to RDS.
“They should let us know as soon as possible,” Poore said. “We get right on it. What we don’t know, we can’t fix or even look into, so it’s important that students are pretty specific.”
Sly said when food safety concerns are reported, “We send it to the regulatory authority (EHS) and then if they come and do an inspection, they’re the ones who decide if it actually was a foodborne illness. We have never had (a documented foodborne illness) happen ever in the history of Residential Dining Services.”
“It’s not uncommon for (EHS) to show up within 24 hours to just verify, ‘Let’s check things out, make sure that everybody’s doing their jobs,” Poore said. All food safety concerns are taken seriously but can only be investigated when reported by students as soon as possible.
Students often delay reporting or don’t report at all and can contribute to rumors and the spread of false information.
“I told (my residents) to (report food safety concerns), but who knows if they actually did,” the RA said.
If students don’t report their concerns to the dining hall, it makes it hard to understand when and where concerns came from and if they are real. If you experience a food safety concern at the dining halls, talk to the manager on site or call RDS as soon as possible.
Reach Noelle Mason at email@example.com or on Twitter @noellemaso.