Clearing up catering misconceptions
Catering policies have long been a complaint of student organizations on campus as a result of measures put in place to prevent food safety issues.
According to the UMD Food Service Policy, UMD Dining Services is the exclusive campus food and beverage service provider for all events on campus.
This means that any events held on campus must go through catering for their food options, and adhere to beverage guidelines. According to the policy website, UMD has an exclusive contract with Coca-Cola and all beverages provided during on campus events must be distributed by Coke, milk and coffee excluded.
This can be an issue for student organizations who want to bring their own food while having the ease of hosting their event on campus.
“Last year we had to hold African Night for the Black Student Association off campus because in previous years, the food provided on campus was not as authentic as we wanted it to be,” Olivia Osei-Tutu, a member of the Black Student Organization, said. “We had to resort to going off campus in order to bring the food we wanted to use.”
The Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Life, Corbin Smyth, emphasized that the main reasoning behind the catering policies stems from a food safety perspective.
“This issue has nothing to do with catering—they have a responsibility to make sure the food is safe,” he said.
Smyth reiterated that the university holds liability for anything that happens on campus, including foodborne illnesses that stem from food served on campus.
Laura Lott, UMD’s resident Public Health Specialist from the Environmental Health and Safety Office, said that the biggest concern from a food safety standpoint is that someone might get sick from eating food at a university sponsored event. This could mean bad press or potential legal action for the university.
Catering and food safety policies are in place on campus to prevent these issues and ensure the safety of the people consuming food at on-campus events.
“I think the biggest thing is that even though it seems like its cut and dry that catering has to be used,” Lott said. “Whenever I refer a group to them, they are always very cooperative and flexible.”
Sue Olson, the Dining Service Catering Manager, said that dining services wants to accommodate student groups, however the potential for contamination is high when food is not prepared in UMD kitchens.
Student groups often worry about the authenticity of the food prepared by catering. Organizations in the Multicultural Center can require their food to taste a certain way.
“We’ve really strived hard to work with the student groups to show them that the cooks are capable of doing these dishes,” Shelly Schwarz, the Dining Services Catering Supervisor, said.
“If it’s not on the menu, we can still do it,” Olson said.
When a student group places an order with catering they will go through one to three tastings before the event takes place. This helps the chefs ensure that the food tastes the way that the student group imagined it.
Tom Linderholm, UMD’s Executive Chef, said that he appreciates the learning opportunities that come with providing catering services for a diverse range of student organizations, and that he enjoys working with the students and understanding their expectations for the events.
“We can make just about anything,” Linderholm said.
There are no concrete plans in place to change the university’s food service policies in the future.
“This is a great time to look at some of our practices and policies in dining because of new leadership coming in,” Smyth said, in regards to the new Director of Dining Services, Betsy Hegelson.