Survey says: Sodexo service a mixed bag

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By: Matt Wegh, Managing Editor
Opinions about on-campus dining services at Illinois Wesleyan are certainly mixed. In an effort to more effectively gauge the opinions of Illinois Wesleyan students regarding the on-campus dining services by Sodexo, The Argus circulated a survey. Rather than email, the survey was spread through Illinois Wesleyan student groups on social media. Questions focused on the quality and nutritional value of the food, how dietary restrictions are being met, students perceptions of the environmental sustainability of Sodexo, as well as opinion questions like which location is the best on campus.

The survey got 119 responses from students, a little under seven percent of the 1,771 students that attend IWU.
Student representation was relatively equal among grades, with 31.9 percent of responses coming from seniors, 20.2 percent from juniors, 26.9 percent from sophomores and 21 percent from freshmen. Responses expectedly ranged from praise of Sodexo as a whole to scathing reviews of past bad experiences.

The freshness and quality of the food were the most cited reasons for negative reviews. Of the 119 responses, 58 students, or 48.7 percent, mentioned freshness or quality as an area for improvement. When asked to rank quality and freshness on a scale of one to 10, students gave an average score of 4.45. “Even the healthy options such as salads do not seem fresh and are often frozen for awhile,” one student said.

Some of the most common reasons cited for lower scores were the use of less-than-fresh ingredients. It is as fresh as they can get it, but I’m sure more local food could be utilized which would increase this score,” one student suggested. To avoid freshness issues, one student who works for Sodexo pointed out that the company has a policy for how long food may be used. “Once food has been cooked, leftovers can be stored and used in new dishes for 3 days only,” the student said.

Though most students graded the food below a five, 36.1 percent of students gave the quality and freshness of Sodexo food as a six or above, with no one assigning a perfect 10. “This year I’ve noticed a marked improvement from last year. I’ve noticed more fresh fruit and steamed vegetables rather than microwaved,” said one student who gave the food a six out of 10.

Several other students mentioned having noticed an improvement from years past, also mentioning an increased availability of fresh fruits and vegetables. Other students, still, mentioned things like seeing mold in the salad bar, and three separate responses reported finding bugs in food. “I find the lettuce and other veggies too sketchy from too many instances of bugs and mold. I generally stay away,” one student said, talking about the health of his/her diet.

Other students agreed that they do not believe they are eating healthy enough while on campus. When asked to rank the health of their diet on a one to 10 scale, students gave an average score of 4.6. “The options of healthy food are slim to none, even when they say a food is healthy you can’t be sure because the quality of produce and meats used are poor,” said a student who ranked their diet as a three out of 10.

Most students echoed this sentiment and said essentially that healthy food is available on a daily basis, but there is either not enough variety in this food or the poor quality of the ingredients negates any benefits that there might be. “There aren’t healthy options available unless you want a salad or wrap every day,” said another student.

Variety was also an issue for students with dietary restrictions, such as a gluten-free diet, vegetarian/vegan diet, food allergies and even student-athletes. “I used to be a vegetarian, and it was a little frustrating to only have one option where meat eaters would have multiple. Plus, vegetarian foods like tofu were never seasoned well,” one student said regarding if dietary restrictions are being met.

The root of most complaints about Sodexo was the quality of the ingredients. Of the 119 responses to the survey, 61.3 percent claimed that the food has at some point made them feel sick. “Certain foods are good, but others make me sick or are not fresh at all,” a student said. Students by and large do not believe that this has much to do with the staff or how the food is being cooked though. “The fruit and veggies supplied are rarely in good quality and the other foods served hold little nutritional value,” a student said.

When asked to rank the sanitary practices of Sodexo workers, students gave an average score 6.5 out of 10. Just over 83 percent of students gave a score of five or above. Some lower scores cited things like coughing or sneezing in food, reusing or not using gloves and employees not wearing hair nets as their main reasons. Several responses also mentioned having seen cross-contaminated food. “I’ve seen a lot of cross-contamination of foods, especially in the dugout, but not much more than any normal food service,” one student said.

The bulk of students, however, said they had either never seen anything particularly unsanitary or that the employees uphold the health standards well. “I know exactly what sanitary practices are enforced and workers are very conscious not to contaminate things,” said a Sodexo student-worker. When asked what the best aspect of Illinois Wesleyan’s dining services is, student responses also pointed to the diligence and positivity of the staff. “The staff is always very friendly,” another student said.Seven students even named Dave Nicholson, or “Saga Dave” as he is more generally known on-campus, as the best aspect of IWU dining services. “I think the best aspect of IWU dining services is the great atmosphere given off by the employees in saga,” one student said.
Apart from the staff, convenience of dining, the variety of options and Wing Wednesday were other popular student responses to what is best about Sodexo.

Students gave the widest variety of responses to the last question: how do you believe Illinois Wesleyan could improve its dining services? Improving freshness and quality of ingredients was by far the top response to this question. Of the 92 responses to this, 45.6 percent of students said this is the best way IWU could improve dining.

Other students, particularly student-athletes, had issues with the hours when on-campus food is available. “The hours are absolutely ridiculous, saga (Bertholf Commons) closing at seven doesn’t allow some student-athletes to get dinner after practice,” said one of the more savage responses.

One response suggested that students should improve their own eating habits to improve campus dining. “Dining services could improve by getting its students to not waste so much food. Students like to talk about how bad Sodexo or IWU might be, yet fail to see their faults as well,” he/she said.

Other responses included improving sustainability, providing more options to students with dietary restrictions, more authentic international food for international students and being more transparent with the sources of food provided. While some students called for Illinois Wesleyan to move away from Sodexo entirely, the root issue is freshness. “Any attempt to supply food locally, or at least stop using frozen or heavily processed foods, would go a long way to improving how I feel about meals,” said one student.