Health risks arise from dining hall’s lack of food labels, choices

While some students may grumble about the University of Miami’s food choices, for many on-campus diners disappointment in meal options may not be due to being tired of the food, but rather not being able to eat enough of it.

Despite this year’s implementation of the new kosher meal plan, many students are still not satisfied with the University of Miami’s requirement of purchasing a meal plan when living on campus, especially those students with certain food allergies or lifestyle choices.

Sophomore Sam Levine sometimes finds it difficult to choose her meals in the dining hall because of her different allergies. Levine’s allergy to seafood becomes a problem when visiting the sandwich station, which includes an exposed tub of tuna.

“I sometimes visibly see tuna on the turkey,” Levine said, indicating that food handling and preparation strategies may be improper. Levine’s allergy is severe enough that tuna simply touching her sandwich could cause an allergic reaction.

“I do enjoy Chartwells’ [dining hall] meals, but I have to be really careful,” Levine said.

Another sophomore, Melanie Schlesinger, faces the same challenges when eating meals in the dining hall. Schlesinger’s gluten-intolerance prevents her from eating foods with wheat, barley, or rye – extremely narrowing the choices that the vegetarian can choose from.

Just like Levine, Schlesinger is most worried about cross-contamination of the food.

“I can’t sit there and watch them as they prepare everything,” Schlesinger said. “If they use the same tongs to pick up the breakfast potatoes that are just used to pick up French toast sticks, I will have a reaction.”

Mel Tenen, assistant vice president for Auxiliary Services, said that this should not be a worry for students.

“Our policy is, upon request, the cooks or servers will change gloves and utensils [and] pans for any guest,” Tenen said. “They have designated tongs for each item in the wells to prevent them from coming in contact with different items.”

Sophomore Amanda Goldberg faces the same problem as Schlesinger, as she is also a gluten-intolerant vegetarian. Goldberg is inconvenienced because most vegetarian meals include pasta and sauces that contain gluten.

Some students believe the dining hall employees should become more knowledgeable about the ingredients in the meals they serve.

“When I ask the staff if there is gluten in the sauces, they don’t know,” Goldberg said.

Many students, like Goldberg, would prefer Chartwells, the university’s food provider, to ensure clear and effective labeling of meals, which is a goal that Tenen said the university is working towards implementing in the next year or two. Tenen added that manufacturers changing products often prevents the university from knowing what specific ingredients are in each item.

Schlesinger and Goldberg both live in Mahoney, on a floor where there is a kitchen. In addition to paying for the meal plan each semester, they both purchase many products from Whole Foods to be assured that their meals do not cause reactions.

“I went out of my way to live on a floor with a kitchen,” Schlesinger said. “You shouldn’t be required to have a meal plan if you have an allergy that has been proven by a doctor.”

Tenen explains that about 4,200 students at the university have purchased meal plans this semester.

“This is a long-standing university policy,” Tenen said. “Most universities have similar policies. A well-balanced and nutritious meal plan is desired by students and their parents.”