Questions About Self-Serve Safety: Health Services Voices Flu Concerns

By Jack Hunt
Elm Staff Writer 

Concerns regarding the safety of food in the Dining Hall arose recently due to the new system of self-service. Members of the Washington College Health and Counseling Service have expressed worry that the new system might make the spread of contagious diseases easier.

The decision to make the Dining Hall self-serve was made this summer by the directors of  WC Dining Services.  After researching the use of the system at schools similar to the size of WC, the advantages seemed to outweigh the disadvantages. In addition to the system being more efficient, there were no outstanding health issues arising at the other institutions.

The directors collectively decided that a change would only benefit the students, faculty and other guests. The Dining Services team is closely watching to see how the new system operates, in case any tweaks need to be made to improve it.

Students help themselves to food in the Dining Hall. Health Services has raised some concerns about the new self-serve as flu season approaches.
Students help themselves to food in the Dining Hall. Health Services has raised some concerns about the new self-serve as flu season approaches.

As we enter the flu season, the transmission of viruses will become more of a concern for everyone on campus. Most people at WC go through the Dining Hall at least once a day, making it one of the most highly trafficked areas on campus.

Health care professionals will generally tell patients to wash their hands after touching common surfaces like door handles and hand railings, and especially before eating. “The dining team has proper food preparation, food handling and food temperature policies in place and follows them. Guests can reduce risks by washing hands frequently, utilizing the correct utensils on the serving lines, and reporting any problems they may see,” said Lisa Marx, director of Health Services.

The new system is set up so that all students use the same serving utensils to put food on their plates. This means the utensils are common surfaces that can be used to pass bacteria or viruses from one person to another. After getting food, students are likely to go and find a place to sit without considering sanitizing their hands first. This poses a problem particularly with finger foods like chicken nuggets and French fries.

Most guests in the Dining Hall would not think of washing their hands after getting food from the line, but sanitizing will probably become more common as flu season draws nearer. “It is really everyone’s responsibility to keep everyone healthy. Being in a college campus environment, students have numerous opportunities to be exposed to illness. Everyone can play their part,” said Marx.

While there might be more risk of illness as a result of the new system in the Dining Hall, there is less risk now of food-born illness because of the new system. The Dining Service now uses smaller container sizes and cooks in smaller batches so that food is fresher, which means that there is less time for the food to harbor bacteria and contagions.

The staff is vigilant when it comes to issues with the quality of the food service; perhaps now more than ever, since they are no longer charged with directly serving the food. If a problem concerning the health of students appears, the Dining Services and the Health Service are well equipped to handle it.

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