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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

All about Aramark: from prisons to (Disney) castles

Published: September 23, 2011
Section: News, Top Stories

Food is a popular point of contention at Brandeis and Aramark, the company that provides it, which garners criticism both for the quality of the food and its business practices. Students enjoy repeatedly pointing out that Aramark also serves prisons, which is true. It does not, however, serve the same food to Brandeis as it does to state penitentiaries. Aramark functions on a tier system, which means that the more expensive packages boast fancier, and likely healthier, food. Prisons rank somewhere near the end of the alphabet and Brandeis, though not Tier-A, is significantly better.

Aramark is not exclusive to universities and state penitentiaries. It also caters to the staff of Walt Disney World, “the Happiest Place on Earth.” It has been serving the BBC since 2007. That Fenway hot dog? Aramark. They’ve worked the Olympics a total of 14 times. The Chilean miners, trapped thousands of feet underground for months, were sent vacuum-packaged meals by Aramark. It is an expansive corporation, with offices in more than 22 countries and hundreds of thousands of employees.

Recently, the company has been plagued by safety and sanitation complaints as well as labor disputes. Aramark settled negotiations with migrant tomato harvesters in Florida that resulted in an 80 percent wage increase after charges, which included paying far under minimum wage and even allegations of “slavery,” which was a labor-success largely due to the efforts of student organizations at Florida Gulf Coast University in Ft. Myers.

Aramark has also been accused of overcharging and driving up prices. In 2004, they settled for $3 million after accepting a donation from the USDA without reducing the bill to the school district to which it was contracted but claims that no laws were broken. Complaints of unpaid workers’ compensations were brought against the company but were later dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. Workers have been fired after reporting unsanitary conditions to regulators. The Philadelphia Capitol cafeteria was forced to close for three weeks due to rodent contamination.

Brandeis, however, has few complaints in terms of cleanliness, most of them coming from the taste of the food. A new student-employee at Usdan reassured The Hoot, “Everyone cleans up really well. The employees here do above and beyond their cleaning job.”

Brandeisians complain inarticulately about the dining services, citing a general lack of quality and variety in dining options, but many students do have legitimate concerns: “The healthier options are very limited, and some things don’t look edible at all … A lot of things are just bread,” said Victoria Aronson ’15.

According to Karen Cutler, director of communications at Aramark, these student complaints might not be so futile: “We also survey students each semester to gauge their needs and preferences, and enhance the dining program based on student feedback.”

Aaron Bennos from Brandeis’ Dining Services office, chorused corporate to the letter. Students, he said, are given a survey every year and Aramark builds a program to meet their needs. Aramark “is committed to offering the students the greatest variety, convenience, quality and value.”