The term “food poisoning” has the power to trigger a shudder of revulsion among much of the general population.
At Fairfield University and on most college campuses, food poisoning and communicable diseases tend to become very prevalent issues. According to the director of the Student Health Center Julia Duffy, these issues spread somewhat more readily when there are close living quarters and mass produced food.
According to Duffy, many of the symptoms that follow food poisoning are identified as gastrointestinal symptoms.
The Student Health Center directly evaluates students that report various indicators of the illness.
According to Duffy, food poisoning is not actually the scientifically correct term to use.
“The term ‘food poisoning’ is relatively nonspecific and open to variable interpretations. Here at the Student Health Center we use the term gastroenteritis, not the term food poisoning,” said Duffy.
Duffy went on to explain the term in depth.
“Most often it is used to refer to microbial foodborne illnesses (such as salmonella, E.coli, listeria, etc.) These foodborne illnesses are reportable to the Connecticut Department of Health. We have not had any reportable foodborne illnesses at Fairfield University this year,” said Duffy.
While the numbers vary every year, this year the Health Center has only dealt with a few cases of gastroenteritis, according to Duffy.
However, this year, the Health Center has seen a number of students with a particular strain of influenza.
“Influenza is a respiratory virus, but at times, some strains may also cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. This flu season, we are seeing quite a few students with gastrointestinal symptoms who are testing positive for influenza,” explained Duffy.
When students report these specific gastrointestinal issues, the Health Center swiftly conducts a regulatory plan of action to restore the student’s health.
“Evaluating students with various gastrointestinal symptoms is a regular part of our clinical practice here at the Student Health Center. Periodically, we see students with acute gastroenteritis,” said Duffy.
Usually these infections are viral in nature and tend to resolve without medical treatment.
“If indicated, we will order lab tests to identify a specific pathogen and/or refer the student to the emergency department for further evaluation and rehydration,” continued Duffy.
A few students have had their own experiences with gastroenteritis caused by different foods.
Sophomore Katherine Barber believed the source of her food poisoning was due to food being left out for substantial amounts of time in the makeshift dining room.
“I happened to go to Barone on a night that was over capacity, so I grabbed sushi quickly on my way to class from the makeshift dining area in the oak room. I immediately felt sick. I think that Barone should closely monitor the food they serve down in the Oak Room, even if the dining area is temporary,” said Barber.
Another student, Hannah Dingley ‘19, believes that fresh food should be made more available in order to minimize the risk of gastroenteritis.
“I got very bad food poisoning in Barone last year. I was making myself a salad at the salad bar and I decided to put the hard boiled eggs in my salad. That night I was throwing up in my room. In my opinion, Barone should start serving fresh food. I understand that it is costly but serving preserved foods increases the risk of contamination,” said Dingley.
In order to improve the quality of food in Barone so that students no longer have concerns about the food they’re consuming, Spencer Gilbert ‘20 and Kyle King ‘20 started a petition on change.org to “abandon Sodexo and its high-cost food, low-quality food and unethical standards. They do not meet the standards of Fairfield University.”
In addition to the direct clinical care Fairfield provides to ill students with infectious gastrointestinal conditions, the health center also focuses on educating these students with a few tips on hygiene measures to avoid transmitting the illness to others.
“Typically, these microbes are spread from one person to another by one of two ways: by hand to mouth or by hand to food to mouth. For example, we stress that ill students must wash their hands, especially after using the bathroom, and should not prepare food for others or serve food to others,” said Duffy.
While it is not always easy to pinpoint the direct causes of gastroenteritis, Fairfield University takes many precautions in order to curb the food-related afflictions.
“Fairfield takes great pride in the comprehensive set of safeguards that were developed and instilled in the food service area to minimize the risk associated with foodborne pathogens,” said Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Jim Fitzpatrick ‘70.