Most students at the University of Miami are familiar with the strange experience of ordering a turkey sandwich at one of the school cafeterias only to be served some turkey derivative that has an alarming orange-salmon colored hue. Those who do not frequent the cafeterias may be more familiar with the equally disturbing experience of eating at the food court, timidly poking through layers of glaze at an amorphous blob of chicken (inwardly hoping that it is, in fact, chicken) from Panda Express. However, as much as students might complain about the quality of food on campus, most people seem to be fairly sure that the University wouldn’t feed us anything harmful.
In recent days, students have found themselves fearfully asking, “Wouldn’t they?” After an outbreak of gastroenteritis and a week full of dining hall inspections, allegations and news coverage, the answer to that question is very unclear. How safe is the food that we eat? Who is inspecting it? What are the criteria that have to be met before a piece of food can be served? How clean are the cafeterias and food court restaurants that serve us our breakfasts, lunches and dinners? These questions are troubling for two reasons. First, they force students to be conscious of the fact that eating on campus means putting themselves in danger. Second, they make students feel that they should not have to be asked in the first place.
No one will argue that students pay a ghastly amount of money to attend this university. Shouldn’t we at least feel safe to eat on campus? In fact, regardless of the amount of money that any school costs, shouldn’t students feel safe to eat the food on any campus? Granted, the University has monetary constraints when selecting the food to be served and the companies to prepare and serve that food, and so we will never see five star cuisine on campus. However, no one asked for five star cuisine and no one expects it. What students do expect is to be able to eat in peace without having to worry if a particular meal is going to be hazardous to their health (although with Taco Bell on campus, maybe students should see hazardous food as the standard).
In all fairness, it is still very unclear who is responsible for the recent outbreak of gastroenteritis. The student dining halls have been investigated most thoroughly of all the on-campus eateries, but early reports suggest that the problem may have actually started in the food court. Still, to place blame based on concrete evidence at this point is impossible.
But it really doesn’t matter who is to blame in this incident. Whether it was the food court or the dining halls, the fact is that many students became ill as a direct result of the food they were served on campus. Such a large outbreak of gastroenteritis should not have happened under any circumstances, and it is imperative that the administration takes whatever course of action it deems necessary to ensure that it will not happen again. They owe it both to the students who got sick and to every other student who must, for the time being, eat her or his lunch in quiet fear.