Students Concerned About Food Safety, Options as HUDS Strike Drags On

UPDATED: October 13, 2016, at 6:39 p.m.

As the historic dining workers’ strike stretches into its second week, some students are starting to question the quality and health standards of the food being served.

Students have reported finding undercooked meals, meat mixed in with vegetarian food, and insects in their food, prompting some to wonder whether understaffed kitchens are able to maintain the regular health and safety standards of Harvard University Dining Services.

Marcus K. Granderson ’18 and Nader Shayegh ’18 both said they were served raw chicken. Rena Lyon ’18, a vegetarian, said she found pieces of meat in banana bread pudding. Cara R. Jacobson ’18, who has Celiac disease and cannot eat gluten, said getting food during the strike has been “pretty difficult.”

Many students have criticized the food served in the dining halls since the strike—led by dining hall workers affiliated with the Boston-based union UNITE HERE Local 26—began last Wednesday. Anticipating the strike, Harvard stockpiled frozen food, and a few students said during the strike they saw entrees that were served nearly frozen. More generally, some students, like SLAM member Grace F. Evans ’19, said they thought offerings over the weekend were “significantly less appetizing” than usual.

University spokesperson Tania deLuzuriaga wrote in a statement that Harvard’s “commitment to food safety remains paramount.” She said professionals oversee the food preparation and cooking process, and the “HUDS leadership team… makes numerous daily visits to dining halls to review the sanitation and quality of the dining operation.”

Facing staff shortages while hundreds of its employees picket, Harvard has stocked dining halls with easy-to-cook meals like filled pasta shells and chicken and dumplings. But some students are concerned with more than just the lack of quality food.

SLAM, a campus group advocating for HUDS workers, issued a statement via Facebook and email on Sunday sharply criticizing what it deemed risky food preparation. Their statement included photos of what appeared to be raw chicken.

“It’s clear that Harvard can’t deliver hygienic, fresh, or healthy food without HUDS workers,” the statement read. “This food would not pass a health inspection, and we are angry that the University has put students in this situation.”

Jacobson said because the current food in dining halls does not meet her dietary needs, she has eaten out in Harvard Square this week, which has proven a financial burden.

“I have tried eating in the dining hall during the strike, and what I’ve found is that my food is generally limited to the salad bar. The grill is closed. In terms of entrees, there are very few gluten free options, so that has been very limiting as well.” Jacobson said.

An email from HUDS sent out to undergraduates Monday afternoon said HUDS managers would continue to staff the dining halls, serving students “to the best of their ability” for the duration of the strike. It also said “students who have food allergies or other food related accommodations will continue to have their dietary needs met.”

“The health and well-being of our students continues to be our main priority during this difficult time. I know this ongoing situation is not ideal... We continue to hope for a resolution,” Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana wrote in an emailed statement. He added that students with concerns regarding food should speak to their Faculty Deans, assistant deans, or their individual dining hall managers.

Some students have sought food at on-campus cafes. On Friday, the University announced students would receive an additional $25 of BoardPlus, which can be used at many on-campus eateries.

Megan Yerton ’19, a senior manager at Lamont Library Cafe, said that student employees have noticed an increase in customer volume, especially during meal hours, since the strike began last Wednesday. She said their food items, especially sandwiches and pastries, have sold out faster than usual.

Harvard and Local 26 have met for bargaining sessions during the strike. The University has made several new offers that Local 26 has not accepted. An end to the strike is not expected this week.

—Staff writer Graham W. Bishai can be reached at graham.bishai@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Ignacio Sabate can be reached at ignacio.sabate@thecrimson.com . Follow him on Twitter @ignacio_sabate.

This article has been revised to reflect the following corrections:

CORRECTIONS: October 13, 2016

A previous version of this article incorrectly indicated Rena Lyon ’18 was a member of the Student Labor Action Movement. She is not. A previous version of this article also incorrectly stated the class year of Megan Yerton ’19.

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