Plastic Containers and Operating Times Cause Dining Hall Troubles

By AnnGardner Eubank

Ferrum Dining Services are always trying to be innovative with their meal choices and offerings to please students with a variety of nutritious meals. While many students appreciate the dining hall staff’s efforts, there are concerns from the students about the the dining hall’s hours of operation and, most recently, the plastic container controversy. In the last few weeks, students were reminded it is against the rules to bring containers into the dining hall and leave with food. This upsets many students who are on a time restraint, and it also causes a bit of controversy since some faculty members are able to package food and leave the dining hall.         

Director of Dining Services Michael Ferguson, offered some reasoning to the rules. Students are not allowed to leave with containers of leftovers. “It is for Health Department guidelines, as food must be maintained at certain temperatures. If a person carries hot food out and doesn’t eat it right away, bacteria starts to grow. It needs to be cooled to at least 41 degrees before being refrigerated and then reheated to 165 degrees for safe consumption. There are food establishments that allow hot meals for carry out and that’s because they are licensed by the Health Department to do so. Ferrum College Dining Services is not licensed to do so. The regulations are different for fast food establishments such as Subway, Papa Johns, and Blue Ridge Burgers,” he said. “The only staff person that I’m aware of is the President who lives on campus and as part of his contract he sometimes chooses to take his meal home to eat.”

The regulations, intended to safeguard health, lead to waste.

“Any food that is left at the end of the meal that cannot be reused for another menu must be discarded,” Ferguson said. “As much as we would love to offer it to a local shelter, the risk of foodborne illness is too great.”          

While food is being discarded, some students find it difficult to squeeze in a meal. About 76 percent of Ferrum students are student-athletes. Many athletes are not finished with practice until a few minutes after 6 p.m. After putting away equipment and cleaning up, some athletes are not able to be in the dining hall before 6:30. If they have night classes, which start at 6:30 and 6:45, it’s virtually impossible for them to sit down and have a meal.

“I am aware of the athlete’s concern and schedule and have had conversation with upper administration as well as coaching staff about these issues,” Ferguson said. “The bigger issue with keeping the dining hall open later runs into budget restraints. We would have to hire additional staff or pay overtime to make this happen, which we don’t have the budgeted money to cover. We had looked at a possible solution that we were willing to try during the fall semester, however the coach that inquired was not receptive of the idea and therefore we did not implement it.

“I don’t have a good solution to this, but if I had the budget I would not hesitate to put together a plan for our athletes. We have worked with Athletics over the past few years to provide meals for the teams during breaks when the majority of the student body is gone and to the best of my knowledge it has been a positive relationship.” he said.

Ferguson says these issues are known and solutions are being brainstormed often. “I think that it may take a little more time and brainstorming with administration, athletics, academics and students before we can make any changes. We would like to be able to offer more choices and dining options but that requires approval from upper administration,” he said.         

Questions, comments, suggestions, and concerns for the dining hall staff can now be written down and pinned on the newly-added bulletin board near the salad bar in the dining hall.

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