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Do you know what’s in your dorm’s pizza? Notre Dame doesn’t

| Thursday, November 7, 2019

In the fall of 2018, Notre Dame struck a deal with Saint Joseph’s County to take over food safety inspections of its property. With dozens of food service establishments on campus, from the dining halls to hot dog stands in the football stadium, the University framed this arrangement as a way to relieve the overburdened county. Indiana’s public record counselor, Luke Britt, strongly objected to the new system, as Notre Dame wanted to privatize the results of the inspections as well. Under Indiana law, any food safety inspections performed by the government are public information. Notre Dame argued that as a private entity, they would not be subject to the same public record laws. The deal was quietly canceled a month later. The issue of access to food records appeared to play a large role in this decision.

With the events of last fall in my mind, I filed a records request with the county in October for all of the food safety inspections of Notre Dame property from 1 January 2018 to 30 September 2019. I received over 300 documents, which we at The Observer are working on making available to everyone. Notably absent from these inspections were all of the residence hall food service businesses. No Pizza Dunne Right. No Café Far Far. No Keough Kitch. There were inspections of all 40 concession stands in the football stadium, along with records from the chains on campus like Taco Bell and Subway. There were inspections of lesser-known spots like Café de Grasta in Grace Hall. But not a single one of the food service places in our residence halls was subjected to a health inspection.

When asked about this discrepancy, University spokesman Dennis Brown stated, “The county does not inspect food service in private residences, so it doesn’t inspect in the halls since those are the students’ residences.” Pushed to clarify on who owns the residence hall food services, Brown responded that there is “no ‘owner’ of these food services.” Rather, he said, they are “fund-raising initiatives within each of the halls.” 

While their location inside of a residence (the use of “private”, when hall staff can inspect your room at any time, is up for debate) may exempt the food services from county food service inspections, it does not exempt them from serving safe food. It is currently unclear what role, if any, the University plays in overseeing the food service establishments inside the halls. I reached out to two different dorm food service establishments to inquire about their cleaning process and relationship with the University. One declined to comment, and another did not return my questions in time for publication.

If, as the University seems to believe, the true role of the residence hall eateries is to serve as a fundraising initiative, it only serves to add to the confusion about why the women’s halls have so few food services of their own. As I found in an earlier column, currently only two of the women’s halls have food services of their own. That leaves 11, potentially 12 after Johnson Hall is completed, women’s halls lacking a source of fundraising that the University endorses.

Like many others on campus, I relied on my dorm’s Dawg Pizza for a cheap late-night meal. I have no vendetta against the residence hall eateries and think each dorm should have one of their own, especially if they are supposed to serve as fundraising initiatives. I also remember the frequent fire alarms of my sophomore year, many of which were caused by buildup in the pizza oven. Less fondly, I remember the cockroaches and mice that called Alumni home, and wonder if they had access to the pizza bagels I ate almost nightly.

These questions would be easy to address if the University inspected the residence hall eateries and made the result of these inspections public. However, if Notre Dame’s stance on police records is any indication, it is unlikely this sort of openness is going to come around organically.

The University needs to make clear what the roles of the residence hall food services are within the dorms, who has oversight over them, and what happens to the profits. And, as renovations continue, I still urge the residents of our women’s halls to ask why they are being given kitchens instead of businesses.

Ben Testani is a senior studying international economics, Arabic and Spanish. He comes to Notre Dame via Central New York and while currently residing off-campus, will always be a proud Alumni Dawg. He welcomes feedback at [email protected] or @BenTestani on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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