For University of Connecticut students who pay importance to the nutritional content of their meals, and especially for those with food allergies, the accuracy of the nutrition labels standing at each station in every dining hall is imperative – but a mix-up with the labels at McMahon dining hall caused quite an uproar on Tuesday night.
Jay Lin, an 8th-semester MCB major, posted a photo to the Buy or Sell UConn Tickets Facebook page from Tuesday’s Late Night hours, showing that the labels for the roast beef pizza, margherita stone pizza, Coney Island hot dog, and grilled ham and cheese listed identical nutritional measurements.
Over 900 students liked the post, many commenting out of rage about the event. The Black Sheep Online also wrote an article satirizing the issue, entitled “McMahon Unveils Futuristic Magic Food.”
“There was a long line in the hot dog section, so I read the labels and I noticed they were all the same,” Lin said. “I asked the server about it, and she said they were probably wrong. So then I ran to the pizza line and bam, same exact thing.”
Lin also commented on the fact that since the labels were all the same, the ham and cheese didn’t even have “milk” listed as an allergen. Though noticing this is easy, other allergens might not be so easy to detect with the naked eye.
“I personally don’t have any dietary restrictions, but I have plenty of friends who base their diets off those nutrition guidelines,” Lin said.
Robert Landolphi, Dining Services Culinary manager, said the incident was simply the result of human error.
The online nutrition label system, Aurora Information Systems FoodPro – a nationally accredited system used by many colleges and universities – was down that night, forcing McMahon’s manager to input the labels manually. With the system down, the actual nutritional guidelines were not available, and the manager decided to copy and paste the different meal names onto the same sheet of nutrition facts, Landolphi said.
Though the incident was reported by staff immediately, Landolphi said if it were him, he probably would’ve just left all the nutrition facts off and just included the meals’ names for the night.
“It’s got to be accurate though, that’s the thing…the last thing we want is for someone to have a bad experience,” Landolphi said.
Nutrition labels found on food packages are put into FoodPro and the system generates general information, cooking instructions, nutritional analysis, ingredients and cost for every single recipe. The labels can be easily printed right from there. The system also acts as a reordering system, and can forecast the amount of servings to make for the next meal based on how many servings were taken the last time it was made. Keywords put in the search engine make everything from paper products to a certain dining facility to a certain recipe easily accessible, Landolphi said.
The system also generates the Healthy Husky Entrees, which have been evaluated by registered dieticians on campus. In order for a meal to be deemed Healthy Husky, one serving must be under 300 calories, it must have less than 30 percent of calories from fat, and less than seven percent can come from saturated fat. Any recipe that is generated can also be manually altered in order to make it more of a healthy option, Landolphi said.
But Dining Services only uses these guidelines for entrees that are actually healthy. A portion of something less healthy might follow the caloric standards, but that doesn’t mean it’s a healthy choice.
“If you went and had a two-ounce portion of fries, that might look like it’s a Healthy Husky, but we will not label it as that,” Landolphi said.
Dining staff are also trained in allergen sensitivity, as allergens are listed for all recipes. An online program, ServSafe, certifies dining employees all over the nation. But many colleges only require one certified employee per facility. At UConn, 85 percent of dining staff are ServSafe certified, and all 450 employees go through Dining Services own allergen training twice a year.
“At other colleges and universities, as long as there’s one Qualified Food that counts as oh, good enough, we’re covered. We don’t do that,” Landolphi said.
Landolphi said the system does not go down often and this incident was purely human error. He stresses that students with any questions whatsoever regarding dietary needs should not hesitate to talk to a manager.