On Sunday, Oct. 10, a student snapped a picture of a piece of undercooked chicken she was served at Sam’s Place. Within a few hours, two additional students also contacted dining services saying the same thing had happened to them.
Montclair State Dining hosted a town hall event in University Hall with a panel of speakers from dining services to address students regarding this situation and any other issues with campus dining on Nov. 16. The panel included Dora Lim, the district manager, James Standridge, the senior executive campus chef, Renee Cetrulo, the director of operations, Bill Heslin, the senior director of residential dining and Lindsey Anderson, the marketing manager.
Dining services wasted no time addressing the elephant in the room. Standridge began the meeting by explaining that undercooked chicken ended up on students’ plates because an employee did not follow proper protocols for food preparation.
“What I can tell you is that this occurred because one of our team members didn’t follow through on their training and the protocols that we have put in place and have had put in place for years as an organization,” Standridge said.
Standridge continued by explaining the quality assurance procedures dining services carry out.
“We do quality assurance inspections from our team monthly [and] we also have third-party auditors that come in,” Standridge said. “At the moment, they are coming in every week. We also report to the health department of Clifton and Montclair, and they are directed by the state health department and the [Food and Drug Administration].”
Despite the circumstances, Standridge made it clear there were no excuses.
“What I don’t want to do is tell you, ‘Gee that’s okay,’ because it’s not,” Standridge said. “One miss on a protocol is a significant issue and a significant challenge for us.”
Heslin continued the conversation by stressing the importance of students actively communicating with the dining services staff, as this was an important theme all the panel members continued to emphasize throughout the meeting.
“What we are trying to accomplish today and moving forward is to get that communication with you guys,” Heslin said. “[We want to] have you guys know our faces. Come in, [and if] you have a question [or] you have a concern, you come speak with us.”
The panel gave many different resources at which dining services could be reached, including the Dine on Campus app; their 24/7 anonymous text resource, which can be reached at 973-233-4908; their website: dineoncampus.com; and Montclair State Dining’s social media: @eatatmontclair, which goes for their Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.
The second half of the town hall was opened for students to voice their concerns.
Emmelis Perez, a freshman business administration major, took advantage of this opportunity and spoke about the various issues she was having at Sam’s Place. One of those issues included the fact that students aren’t allowed to bring their own containers for takeout and must resort to the plastic green containers Sam’s Place provides.
“I had a few specific concerns when it came to vegetables and fruits being added to our menus, the cleanliness of the plates and utensils used and also the Tupperware issue, [in which] we can’t bring in our own,” Perez said.
Following the town hall meeting, Perez said she felt better about things.
“I feel a little bit better now that I have the [phone numbers] of specific people who run the [dining hall],” Perez said, “Now, I know if there is an issue we just have to ask the manager while it is happening so that the manager knows about the situation and it doesn’t go unheard.”
Kristina Burr, a freshman social media and public relations major, was also one of the students who spoke up at the meeting. Burr said she was grateful that students were being given an opportunity to voice their concerns, but still felt skeptical about how much of what they said would actually be implemented.
“I really appreciate the changes and this platform to be able to talk out these things, but I still think there is some mistrust within the student community and [that] we need to see an audible and visual change for sure,” Burr said.