Several students complained of contracting food poisoning from The Shack between Nov. 9 and 12. All of them had consumed chicken.
One student, who did not wish to be named, said he began to feel sick after dinner at The Shack on Sunday, Nov. 12.
“I started feeling sick right after I had dinner. I felt a pit in my stomach the entire night till about 12 when I threw up the first time. I threw up subsequently six times over the next two days, couldn’t hold down anything,” he said.
The student, who had a chicken sandwich and fries, believes food poisoning best explains his symptoms.
“There really was no other explanation because I felt fine up until eating the sandwich and fries,” he said.
Kody Dietsch, senior criminology law and society major, ate at The Shack on Friday, Nov. 10, for Wing Night. Like the other student, Dietsch had chicken, in this case BBQ wings. He offered a similar description of what occurred.
“I became ill a few hours after eating at the Shack on Wing Night. I did not immediately get sick but felt something was wrong with my stomach,” Dietsch said.
Dietsch was also confident in identifying food poisoning as the cause of his illness.
“My roommate had received the stomach flu before me but that was a few days before this and I had received my flu shot. I am more confident in the Shack food as this was almost timely to my eating there,” Dietsch said.
Dean Wilk, senior accounting major, also thinks he experienced food poisoning.
“I became ill the evening of Thursday, Nov. 9,” Wilk said. “The last thing I ate before I became sick was a grilled chicken wrap from The Shack that day around 11 a.m.”
But Wilk said he couldn’t dismiss the possibility of a flu.
“I do not know exactly what it was that caused my sickness. At first I was sure that it was from what I ate, but later I heard that a stomach virus was going around. So, I am not entirely sure,” he said.
The students didn’t agree on a proper response to the incidents, though all expressed concern about food safety.
The student who preferred to remain anonymous was highly vocal in his displeasure with Shack food safety procedures.
“I think sole blame should be placed on Shack employees, there is cross
contamination everywhere. They could go from cleaning up one moment to handling food the next. I saw one worker put raw hamburger patties on the grill, then go help and make wraps without washing his hands. I don’t know whether they don’t care or this is just pure ignorance, but the whole attitude of the Shack employees need to change,” he said.
Wilk suggested a more measured approach.
“I think they should be told about the sicknesses going around, and to go through procedures to make sure the food is cooked/handled correctly. I do not think The Shack should face any consequences unless substantial evidence is found,” Wilk said.
We contacted dining services to comment, who referred us to Suzanne Wilcox English, vice president for admission, marketing and communications.
English stated that any reports of food poisoning are taken very seriously.
“It’s a serious concern for a food provider, because this meal is prepared for the college as well as the monastery, including people in the infirmary, so if there were food that was contaminated, it would be widespread,” English said.
She thinks an investigation could be warranted, but there may be explanations other than food poisoning as well.
“I think it is worth investigating whether it might be, because I did talk to the Wellness Center and they have had some instances of gastroenteritis, which is a stomach virus. It is interesting that these people believe they ate the same thing in the same time frame,” English said.
None of the students interviewed for this article obtained a medical diagnosis of any kind.
English noted that at least one student (not interviewed for this article) claimed food poisoning from meatloaf recently. But no other students eating meatloaf that evening reported any issues, leading her to conclude that no food poisoning was involved in that case. On the other hand, portions of chicken could more easily pose a danger since they are prepared individually.
English explained that Saint Vincent hasn’t had issues with food poisoning in the past.
“We have not, to our knowledge, had any food poisoning, which is why this was a shock,” she said.
English also pointed out that The Shack in particular has done very well
on food safety evaluations, conducted both by The Pennsylvania Department of Health as well as a third-party agency. In fact, The Shack scored significantly higher than the cafeteria on a recent third-party evaluation.
That being said, English encouraged any students observing violations or receiving improperly prepared food to ask to speak to the floor manager.
“They should talk to the supervisor on duty. If they have a concern that a meal is not cooked or something like that, they should let him know immediately and they will replace that meal. They will address it,” English said.
Photos: stvincent.edu; Jonathan Meilaender