The month-long government shutdown left many reeling as the support of federally run institutions suddenly disappeared beneath their feet. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), responsible for approving and ensuring the quality of much of the nation’s food, was one such institution. With the FDA absent, many restaurants, schools, and other culinary services lost the insurance of healthy and safe ingredients for their meals. In absence of federal regulation, how was Belmont Hill affected?
Director of Dining Ms. Wu pointed out the importance of having third-party food audits, which are separate from the government, in times such as these. Sodexo, the corporation responsible for supplying much of our school’s food, works closely with vendors to maintain quality of ingredients. Beyond having a constant standard of quality in place, oftentimes they will bring said auditors to test food. Furthermore, Sodexo has plans for when operations go awry; for example, during the E. coli outbreak in Romaine lettuce earlier this year, Sodexo made the announcement to stop bringing in Romaine. Once the CDC had located the region of the outbreak, California, vendors working with Sodexo labeled where their food came from to guarantee safety for consumption.
Belmont Hill does not serve many high-risk food items, such as shellfish, that were endangered by the shutdown of the FDA. However, for items such as meat, Ms. Wu explained that the kitchen sources much of it from local farms, which in turn have regulations and employ third-party auditors. Belmont Hill and Sodexo know the vendors from which they source ingredients, and by only purchasing through these trusted sources, were not as impacted by the shutdown as other institutions. The impact on universities and restaurants, especially those who serve shellfish, has been much greater than on Belmont Hill. However, Ms. Wu illustrated that, despite the shutdown, the FDA still has agents working in the field, albeit less than before. Due to limited resources, their contingency plans focus work in high-risk areas, and fortunately Belmont Hill is not located in one.
Sodexo had a meeting concerning the impact of the FDA’s absence, and found that no region felt a significant impact. Ms. Wu affirmed that such strength in a time of crisis was due to their “from scratch” methodology and working closely with local vendors. As a result, the Belmont Hill kitchen staff was able to perform their work unhindered throughout the course of the government shutdown.