During her freshman year, Genevieve Lin once found a dead, cooked grasshopper in her bok choy at West Side Dining. Like the senior mechanical engineering major, many other Stony Brook University students are expressing frustration about food quality on campus, particularly at the swipe-in dining halls.
“The food at the dining halls is definitely not up to standard, and sometimes not safe,” Lin said.
Scores of students on social media sites, such as Reddit, have been complaining about poor food quality, sanitation, hygiene issues and food poisoning.
“The food at the dining halls isn’t properly prepared. I remember they once put out fully frozen edamame beans at the salad bar,” said Hunter Huang, a freshman computer science major.
Valentina Cracolici, a sophomore health science major, also discussed her experience with campus dining. After getting sick eating nachos in the dining hall during the Fall 2021 semester and hearing about cases of raw chicken being served, Cracolici created a petition in order to raise awareness about campus dining issues, which garnered about 433 signatures.
“I saw how many people were complaining, specifically on Reddit. I used my social media platforms, and the response was incredible,” Cracolici said. “This also got the attention of the head of campus dining. Mrs. Dawn Villacci reached out to me to discuss my petition and dining hall issues.”
According to Dawn Villacci, the director of West Campus Dining, “The Faculty Student Association (FSA) is aware of student complaints and we met with many students throughout the fall semester about their concerns. Regarding sanitation issues, food safety is Campus Dining’s key priority. All matters that are reported regarding potential food safety are immediately communicated to the on-campus food safety manager for investigation and action.”
Villacci stated that over intersession, all the chefs, culinary team members, servers, managers and cashiers received additional training regarding food safety, allergens and customer service.
Additionally, Villacci mentioned that the dining staff workforce was significantly reduced due to labor shortages caused by COVID-19.
“CulinArt, the food vendor on campus, has been working on rebuilding their team with new workers who are being trained to communicate better if potential issues arise,” Villacci said.
In 2017, CulinArt, a Plainview-based division of Compass Group, replaced the University’s previous food vendor of 22 months, Sodexo, ending a five-year contract. CulinArt rated the highest overall in the review process in terms of its commitment to improving the campus dining experience, beating out its competitor, Aramark.
According to various Reddit posts, some students want CulinArt to be replaced with another food service provider. However, according to Villacci, FSA holds a contract with CulinArt for 10 years, with the option of a five-year renewal.
“The CulinArt management team as well as Compass Group leadership have been made aware of our customers’ concerns and have assured FSA that they are committed to addressing these issues so that they do not reoccur,” Villacci said.
“Honestly, I really feel like it’s less about the food service provider and more about the attitudes of the food service workers and the university staff,” Cracolici said. “The food provider needs to be more strict with their staff, and Stony Brook needs to be more strict with the food provider they hire.”
According to Villacci, other initiatives to improve campus dining include hiring a new executive chef, customized meals for students with food allergies, the “We heard you Seawolves!” campaign to make students aware of the immediate feedback mechanisms available and the SBU Eats Red Shirt campaign, where all managers, supervisors and chefs will be easily identifiable in red shirts and/or chef coats.
“I’m neutral about campus dining, but there is definitely room for improvement,” David Yeung, a freshman undecided major on the Wolfie Plus meal plan, said. “I do like how there are constant menu items like pizza and sandwiches, since those are decent food items. I also like how they try for a more diverse menu rather than serving a full Western menu.”
According to Villacci, FSA surveyed students through email and asked for menu item suggestions for the spring semester. Based on this feedback, some of the new concepts for the spring include Dominican and Puerto Rican Cuisine at Urban Eats, signature chicken sandwiches at the SAC food court, new menu items at Chef Jet’s Modern Asian Kitchen in the Roth food court and Cocina Fresca replacing Mac & Cheesyology at the Roth food court.
In addition, FSA has hired students to be part of the Student Voice on Campus Dining Committee so that they can gather student opinions and feedback regarding all aspects of the dining program. This committee will advise the FSA Board, representing the thoughts and concerns of the student body.
“People tend to feel that just because we are a SUNY school, we should suck up the poor conditions. I think people outside of the student body tend to forget that we are people paying for these services,” Cracolici said. “We need to keep pushing for change and demand for better quality and to be treated decently. We should not be dismissed like children.”