It is common knowledge that the best way to get students to attend a meeting on campus is to bring food. Most students will admit to re-considering attending if the flyer says, “Pizza and drinks will be provided!” UU Hour is also packed with students grilling food and selling cheap package deals for the hungry students.
Have you ever wondered where the food comes from? Cal Poly’s Campus Dining policy requires that organizations purchase their food from the university. Campus officials insist it is the best arrangement and that it is purely for the safety of students, but some students disagree.
For nearly 30 years, the Agricultural Engineering Society (AES) has been holding barbecues outside of Campus Market. They offer hamburgers, drinks, salads, condiments, and even meal deals for students. The club prefers to buy the food off-campus on the day of the barbecue, but starting fall quarter 2005, Campus Dining required them to buy their food on-campus.
“As soon as school started, they just kind of sprung it on us,” said Adam Bechtold, agriculture systems management senior and national representative for the American Society of Agricultural Engineers (ASAE).
The club is required to submit a form detailing everything they will need. To retrieve the materials, they must go to various campus dining facilities.
“After groups get University approval for an event via an e-plan then they contact Campus Dining who will assist in making their event safe and successful,” said Alan Cushman, associate director for campus dining.
Bechtold said placing a request in advance is difficult since the event happens so often.
“It’s just kind of a hassle,” Bechtold said. “We’ve been trying to get it in the Friday before the event just to please them. We order them and they set them aside for us.”
The reasons for Cal Poly’s requirement that groups purchase on-campus food have to do with two contractual obligations.
“The university has had an agreement with the Foundation for a long time,” said Vicki Stover, associate vice president for administration. “We also have an agreement with Pepsi to only serve Pepsi products.”
Stover said they recently have been able to enforce the policy better by using an inspector to check that groups are using proper sanitation and safety, so more groups are beginning to see the effects of it.
“Previously we didn’t have anyone that could go out and help groups,” Stover said. “If anything, (the policy) has just expanded the availability to provide food services for groups for safety reasons.”
Jeff McGuire, agricultural engineering senior and vice president of AES, said he does not mind the inspections.
“Part of the deal is that they want us to keep where we store our food clean and that’s fine, but buying the food on campus is a pain,” he said.
The routine inspections check for temperature control and sanitary conditions.
“(The inspector) comes down every week and inspects our facilities and makes sure everything is clean,” Bechtold said. “At the beginning he came down and was making us do temperature readings on the hamburgers. That we didn’t mind so much because getting everything a little cleaner was good, but we’ve been doing this for 30 years and never had a problem.”
Despite these inspections, Bechtold said he does not see how buying products from Campus Dining is better.
“They told us it was because the food is better quality and they know where it came from, but we didn’t see it that way because buying the food from the grocery store is better quality,” he said. “We don’t usually buy the food until the day of the barbeque so it’s fresh, but we have to give our order to them a week in advance so, they’re either stockpiling it or buying it often.”
AES also had a disconcerting experience when they went to pick up their food and discovered that about half of their hamburger bun packages were moldy.
“One day we went to go pick them up and we were looking through just to make sure they were good, and half of them were moldy,” Bechtold said. “I’m sure they didn’t give them to us on purpose, but I think they just weren’t checking.”
Campus Dining officials were unavailable for comment.
Since AES has been purchasing food and drinks from campus, Bechtold said they have been losing money.
“We were making about $50 per Thursday and now we’re losing money,” he said. “We usually sell our meals for $3 and now, with the way things going, we’ll probably have to bump it up.”
McGuire said the food on campus costs considerably more.
“It varies anywhere from about 10 cents a patty more,” he said. “The sodas are about $3 to 4 dollars a case more and water is probably about $4 to 5 dollars a case more.”
McGuire said it bothered him that he can only purchase Pepsi products on campus, which are about 20 percent more than alternamtive products not available on campus.
According to the Campus Food Services Policy, food is separated into two categories that should be stored and prepared in specific ways to keep them safe and sanitary. These are “low hazard foods,” such as chips, cookies, crackers and soft drinks, and “potentially hazardous foods,” such as cheese, meat, salads, ice cream and baked goods.
Low hazard foods, which do not need to be stored in temperature-controlled areas, are commercially and individually packaged are to be dispersed in the original container. Potentially hazardous foods, such as AES’s hamburgers, must be stored and displayed, refrigerated or heated. The policy also prohibits food from being prepared off-campus, such as baked goods.
“We really want the groups to be successful, so we provide them with this information,” Stover said. “It’s something that a group may not have a knowledge of.
We just want to make sure that it’s done safely and that the students who consume the food will be safe also.