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Kosher food not responsible for G.I. bug

Published: March 13, 2009
Section: Front Page


GI bug: Students eat dinner on the kosher side of Sherman dining hall last night.  Though many students had speculated that they suffered from food posioning after eating kosher food at the dining hall this week, both the health center and Aramark say that Sherman food is completely safe to eat.<br /><i>PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

GI bug: Students eat dinner on the kosher side of Sherman dining hall last night. Though many students had speculated that they suffered from food posioning after eating kosher food at the dining hall this week, both the health center and Aramark say that Sherman food is completely safe to eat.
PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

The Health Center confirmed that there was no food poisoning in Sherman Dining Hall after 29 students came to the center complaining of vomiting and diarrhea.

The complaints came from students falling ill after eating at the dining hall, specifically, in the Kosher section; however, Nursing Director Kathleen Maloney said that these students were suffering from a norovirus, or “tummy bug,” and not food poisoning.

“Whenever people get a tummy bug, they always think it’s food poisoning,” she said, “but the circumstances of this virus do not indicate food poisoning.”

According to Maloney, when food poisoning occurs, it is because one food has been contaminated with a virus either because of poor packaging or because it has been handled by people carrying a virus.

That virus can infect students eating the food; however, Maloney said that the symptoms would most likely become apparent in a few hours, and that because the virus would infect many students at the same time, those sick would report to the health center all at once, in a large group.

Instead, those infected by the stomach bug reported to the health center in groups of staggering sizes over a period of days.

Food poisoning is even less likely because those infected reported to the health center after eating Kosher Sherman food on both “milk” and “meat” days. As according to the laws of Kashrut, food served at Sherman on milk days cannot be cross contaminated with food served on meat days, making food poisoning occurring on both days extremely unlikely.

Maloney said that whenever the health center suspects that there is a gastroenteritis (GI) virus being passed around campus, the health center is required to call the department of public health and the dining halls on campus.

The fact that no one working in the dining halls had been to reporting to work sick, Maloney said further indicated that the illness was not food poisoning.

Director of Dining Services Mike Newmark said in an e-mail to The Hoot, “Dining Services has been in contact with the Health center and were assured that the reported student illness was not related to any food in Sherman…the rumors were not accurate.”

In addition, Maloney said that only three of the 29 students who went to the health center with the virus reported on their health records that they followed a Kosher diet, despite the fact that rumors had speculated that Kosher food was to blame.

Jenna Rubin ’11, who chairs the Student Union’s Dining Services Committee, said that she heard the rumors of food poisoning from multiple students who, after becoming sick, refused to eat food that came from the Kosher Dining hall.

“They wouldn’t eat kosher food, so they couldn’t eat any food on campus,” she said. “They were eating chips and fruit for two days because they were so afraid of it.”

Rubin, who said she heard about up to 40 students who fell ill with the virus, said that not all of those students went to the health center.

Maloney said that she wants to quell students’ fears of eating in Sherman.

“I absolutely would eat there, even on the kosher side,” she said. “No one should be afraid of eating there.”

As for where the virus actually did originate from, Maloney said it’s anyone’s guess, but did caution students to make sure they wash their hands properly.

“It’s very important if you are sick or have been sick to wash your hands after you cough and wipe them with a paper towel after,” she said.

Maloney also suggested that students use paper towels to turn off the water faucets and open the bathroom doors in order to stop the spread of germs.

College campuses are especially vulnerable to illness, Maloney said, because they involve high stress situations, which can weaken one’s immune system, and close living conditions, which can aid the spread of disease.

“It’s just really important that students take care of themselves and get enough sleep and eat their fruits and vegetables,” she said. “But above all, wash your hands wash your hands, wash your hands.