FDFood NewsUMaine students, parents make complaints about poor food quality
FDFood NewsUMaine students, parents make complaints about poor food quality
Food News

UMaine students, parents make complaints about poor food quality

University of Maine leaders say they are working to improve food quality after receiving complaints from students and parents.

ORONO, Maine — University of Maine leaders say they are working to improve food quality in the school’s Hilltop Commons dining hall after receiving several complaints from both students and parents.

Students have been making their dissatisfaction with the meals served in the dining halls loud and clear, and UMaine Vice President of Finance and Chief of Business Kelly Sparks said the university is taking immediate action.

“We have recently fielded a survey with students as well as weekly focus groups, for the last four weeks, with students to understand what their concerns are,” Sparks said.

Although Sparks said most of the complaints received have been about Hilltop Commons, sophomore student Julie Preble said the food served in York dining hall isn’t the best either. She explained that the best food is served in the Bear’s Den—but it comes with a cost.

“They have like sushi, pasta, chicken fingers, burgers, that kind of stuff,” Preble said. “They have a lot more variety down there.”

For Preble, Hilltop Commons has the worst food overall, which she said is inconvenient because the food served in the dining hall is included in the meal plan for students who live on campus.

“I’d say it was a four for me,” Preble said. “A lot of people don’t like the options we have here. It’s not very good. I’ve seen complaints of raw chicken sometimes.”

Preble said the poor food quality played a big role in her decision to move off campus. In the dorms, Preble only has access to a microwave and a mini fridge.

Now that she lives off-campus, she says she can shop her own food and make her own meals.

Several students on campus said they had similar complaints.

“I feel like Hilltop could be a little bit cleaner and more organized,” student Kenny Lema said. “Sometimes people just like, grab food and leave it out there. And it’s just stinky sometimes, and a lot of stuff is sticky.”

Lema said he spent most of his time in the Bear’s Den instead. Freshman student Clara Giuliani said the dining hall doesn’t have enough food options to support various diets.

“I’m a pescatarian,” Giuliani said. “And obviously, it’s very difficult to accommodate everyone’s diets. But it would just be nice to see some more options.”

But Lema’s friend Michael Matthews shared a different viewpoint.

“They always have something,” Matthews said, speaking about food options in Hilltop Commons.

Matthews says he spends a lot of time in the gym, and he likes to load up on high-protein food items. Mattews says he eats a lot of deli meat from the Hilltop dining hall, which works for him. He said he also likes the fruit bar, which makes him feel like he’s getting his money’s worth.

Dick Young, UMaine’s executive director of auxiliary student services said he has made visits to the Hilltop Commons dining hall three times a day, observing the quality of the food that is placed out for students to eat.

Sparks said she takes the complaints very seriously, mentioning that her child will soon be attending UMaine, and making sure students are well nourished is a top priority.

“I’ve personally been going up and eating in the dining center once a week, making surprise visits,” Sparks said.

According to Sparks, the university ran its own dining operations before partnering with Sodexo food company last year. Sodexo manages several dining halls throughout the University of Maine System.

“They are a full service,” Sparks said. “So, they purchase, they cook, they bake here on site.”

Through the partnership with Sodexo, the school was able to access food items that they couldn’t access before, better marketing, and increase staffing and dining hall support, Sparks said. With several benefits on the line, Sparks says the pros cannot outweigh the cons or diminish the food integrity that the university has established in the past.

“All of those things are great, but if it doesn’t meet our culture, our expectations and really, our personalized students, service with our students, those one-on-one connections… then it’s not going to work here, Sparks said.

Due to the overwhelming number of complaints, Sparks said the university is working to reset expectations with the company, changing day-to-day processes.

“We’ve also been looking at the heated food options,” Sparks said. “How do we move the lamps, how do we put the food? How early do we put those hamburgers out before the students arrive.”

There has been some improvement since the university began to host focus groups with students.

Giuliani said when comparing last semester to now, some of the food served in the dining hall looked fresher, specifically referring to the fruit bar.

“The students asked to keep those out all day long, and they changed it,” Guiliani said. “Now there’s fruit all day long.”

Sparks said the university conducts an annual survey, allowing students to rate the dining hall’s quality. She said there is currently a survey in process, and the university has received nearly 900 responses from students so far.

Out of a five-star rating, Sparks said students currently rank the Hilltop Commons dining hall at a 3.42, which she said is slightly up from last year.

“It takes a long time to turn that perception around, and it’s incumbent on us to provide ongoing and consistent quality,” Sparks said. “I’m glad that students are starting to see some of those changes. I still don’t think it’s good enough.”

Although NEWS CENTER Maine asked Sparks to clarify whether there were complaints about food quality that began before UMaine partnered with Sodexo or whether the complaints exclusively began after the partnership, it is still unclear.

Sodexo declined to comment on the matter several times.

“We are ok with letting the university statement represent Sodexo at UMaine,” Sodexo General Manager for UMaine campus Matthew Legault wrote in text in response to a request for further statements.

Sparks said the university continues to welcome feedback from students.

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