It was an ordinary day in late September, and a dinner like any other at Mills College’s main dining hall, Founders Commons. Then Jessica Naimark found an uninvited guest on her plate.
“There was an inchworm that was obviously cooked in my vegetables, just lying there, on a piece of zucchini,” she said.
Naimark, a freshwoman, is not the first student to find a worm in her dinner, but HMDS staff said the last time such an incident occurred was four years ago when a student found a caterpillar in her salad greens. According to Auxiliary Services Director Dorothy Calimeris, the fact that all of Founders’ produce is fresh and organic increases the chance of finding insects.
Bon Appétit Operations Manager Roselia Zendejas explained that Founders’ kitchen workers do take measures to reduce that possibility. “Our staff cleans all produce that comes in to [remove] bugs, dirt, and any potential chemicals that may be on the product. Despite this important step, every once in a while a bug may get through onto the serving line,” she said.
She added, “If this happens, we make sure the product is immediately removed from the line.”
Yet, Calimeris said, students shouldn’t worry about the cleanliness of their food at Founders, because sanitation issues are very rare.
She explained that all of Mills’ Bon Appétit staff are Safe-Certified, meaning they completed a program focused on kitchen safety and sanitary food preparation. This program requires participants to attend classes, as well as to study for and pass a rigorous exam.
“It’s extensive training, and an employee may have to take the test twice to pass,” Calimeris said. She added that staff must renew their certification every five years.
Naimark said she was satisfied with the way her situation was handled, but that she was more concerned about employees’ response. She explained that a week after she found the worm in her cooked vegetables, her friend, freshwoman Sarah Patterson, watched a server remove what she thought was a worm from her plate of pasta.
“[Sarah] saw the server trying to pull something out of her pasta with tongs,” Naimark said. “She looked closer, and she saw a worm that was a good two inches long. The server pulled it off, handed my friend the plate, and continued serving that pasta to everyone else.”
It was later determined that the “worm” was in fact a whole-wheat noodle that had gotten mixed in with the penne.
“The food service worker removed the pasta from the plate, but did not handle communicating what it was to the student well,” Zendejas said.
“Our goal at this point is to provide communication training [to] our line workers, so that they are more comfortable speaking with students regarding food menu items and any other potential food issues which may arise,” she added.
Zendejas later met with Patterson and Naimark to explain the situation. Naimark said that while at first staff members at the meeting doubted the validity of Patterson’s story, both students appreciated the way in which their concerns were addressed.
“They were very nice about the whole situation, and they tried to be accommodating,” she said. “They invited us back to the kitchen to show us how they handle food and cook it, because they are really proud of how they do it.”
Both Zendejas and Calimeris noted that Founders kitchen is inspected on a regular basis by the Alameda County Health Department, and has never failed an inspection. They encourage students to examine the kitchens for themselves, and to speak up when concerns arise regarding their meals.
“When a student has an issue or concern, I would urge them to.speak with the manager on duty at Founders or the Tea Shop,” Calimeris said.”Regarding this specific issue, all the steps were taken that I think should be taken by students, [the] College, and Bon Appétit.”