The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Mountaineer Dining Part II: Interviews with Sodexo Staff

By Lily Barnette

In Part 1 of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Mountaineer Dining, The Berea Torch went published interviews with two student staff members of dining. In Part II, we will be discussing the perspectives of three official Sodexo staff members, all of which are now former employees. We will refer to them as Anon 1, Anon 2, and Anon 3. Once again, everyone asked to remain anonymous. Their responses will be related back to the two anonymous student staff members’ words as well.

Anon 1 and Anon 2 both worked during the Fall 2021 semester and Anon 2 had previous food service experience beforehand. Anon 3’s last semester working in Dining Services was Spring 2020 and they also had food service experience. One of the main issues addressed in Part I was the management of official Sodexo staff. Both Anon 1 and Anon 2 addressed the questions about fellow management staff as:

Anon 1: “The supervisors make it a hostile environment because they are generally just rude, ill equipped, and unwavering in their idea that they are right. It’s a toxic environment with bad leadership. Not all supervisors are bad though… The issues come from higher up the chain in the kitchen.”

When asked to elaborate further, Anon 1 gave us names of some of the managers in question. For privacy purposes, we will not disclose those names and they will be replaced with “Manager,” followed up by a number.

Anon 1: “Manager 1 is a back seat leader, and they tend to make the jobs unnecessarily hard. They routinely change SOP (Standard Operation of Procedures) and have a disregard for their workers. Manager 2 is just honestly not a good supervisor… Just an example was that I was written up for sending out bad chicken, which even my supervisors didn’t believe had happened, yet Manager 2 routinely picks up food without gloves on and it’s the simple things behind that, making it hypocritical.”

Anon 2 had similar things to say about managers. They stated, “There was just an overwhelming opinion that none of the supervisors could be counted on. And so if you wanted to get anything done, you just had to do it yourself. There was also an idea of like, if something bad happens, just don’t tell the supervisors. You’ll probably be scolded even if it’s not your fault… They would show up late if they showed up at all. They would also end up having group lunches or whatever. And they would be like all the higher-ups and all the supervisors sitting at a table just hanging out and eating for like an hour while we were massively understaffed or running around; we really could have used a pair of hands.”

Anon 3 was out of the job before Anon 1 and Anon 2 began working there and did not report similar findings. In regards to management, Anon 3 did not mention what it was like working with other Sodexo staff at all. The polarizing content of Anon 1 and 2 compared to Anon 3 is showcased through descriptions of how food was managed.

Anon 3: “Making sure the foods at the right temperature, making sure that all of our service workers clean all of that. There was so many things that a previous company did not ensure their staff knew while Sodexo actually has so many fail-safes for food safety and for general safety that I’m actually really impressed… I would go through, and I would temp all the food; I would make sure everybody is safe.”

After Anon 3 left after the Spring 2020 semester, Anon 1 and Anon 2 were introduced to the workplace and if you compare their statements to the student workers mentioned in previous articles, then a pattern of mishandling food emerges, specifically with meat being left out longer than it is supposed to.

Regarding temperatures and the following of Standard Operation of Procedures, Anon 1 said, “Some of the Standard Operating Procedures broken? Like a key one is wearing gloves at all times when handling food, and also ensuring that food is the optimal temperature to ensure customer satisfaction and safety.” Anon 2 said, “I was kind of worried because you don’t have to keep food temperatures at a certain level… What we would do, instead of throwing it away, was we would refrigerate it, and you could reuse with the next day. If after that day it didn’t sell, then we would throw it in like soups or omelettes or something else. I guess, you know, it’s not a bad practice, and I would feel comfortable doing that in my own home if I cooked it and knew that it was up to temperature. But this stuff was sitting out for five hours a day and was being heated continuously for that and then refrozen and then reheated. And that felt like a great way for somebody to get sick.”

After everything Anon 2 experienced which was discussed in length with us regarding what it was like working with the COVID-19 policies in place, they went on to tell us that they made official complaints with Sodexo as they are the company that has the jurisdiction within Dining Services. Anon 2 stated, “It had to be Sodexo specifically, which was something that they were really big to hammer in was that they were a complete, separate entity that just happened operate there.” After that got no results and no change, Anon 2 went on to report Dining Service practices to the COVID Crisis Line and the Kentucky State Department of Health. “I reported them to the state twice, because I was genuinely concerned. I really thought there was going to be an outbreak on campus because of how horrible it was in Dining Services [during COVID].”

The Berea Torch is advocating for Dining Services to follow the mentioned Standard Operation of Procedures more strictly. We are advocating for there to be more inspections that are without notice. We are advocating for the better treatment of all workers in Dining. On the Dining Reform Movement survey, 30 students were concerned with the way staff members treat students and other employees.

We are advocating for the increased quality of the food and for a better Dining Service where students are not notoriously complaining about undercooked, overcooked, hair in the food, etc. On the Dining Reform Movement survey, out of the 101 participants, 80 students were concerned with undercooking of food and 30 were concerned with overcooking of food.

Towards the end of their interview, Anon 3 said, “Posting it on social media, that’s really frustrating. It’s like, instead of trying to get attention, how about going to make sure you fix the problem, and that’s getting people to rally with you, fix the problem. And it doesn’t have to be a group effort. You can just go. Hey, this is wrong, isn’t it?”

I believe in this to an extent. By writing these articles and trying to compile as much information as we could (this project was over the course of two weeks), we wanted something more concrete that really establishes what the problem is. And arguably, the way to fix a system-wide issue is to have some attention on it, especially if it has already been reported officially otherwise without change.

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