Many students got sick last Wednesday and Thursday after eating at the Randall Dining Commons, causing the school to close the cafeteria to clean it over the weekend.
According to an email sent by Jerry Price, vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of students, the cafeteria will reopen for breakfast on Dec. 7. Food was available in the Student Union for students with meal plans over the weekend.
“It doesn’t make me scared necessarily, however, it’s a bit concerning since I’m on a 19 meal (per week) plan and I get a majority of my meals from the cafeteria,” wrote Michael Anderson, a sophomore television writing and production major. “When I pay an average of over $10 a meal, I expect quality food and not poisonous meals.”
Anderson started feeling sick hours after eating chicken and mashed potatoes for dinner at the cafeteria last Thursday.
“About five hours after I finished eating I started to feel nauseous,” Anderson said. “I was at (the Phi Delta Theta fraternity’s) initiation and I had to leave early because I had the urge to throw up. I arrived at home and it happened.”
Students described similar symptoms as well. After dinner on Wednesday, Dec. 2, Michelle Voronel, a freshman business administration and economics major, started feeling sick. At first she thought that it was because she had eaten too much.
“After an hour of that constant pain, I thought this is serious and then after two hours of lying down, drinking water and trying to sleep, it just progressively got worse and worse and worse,” Voronel said.
She explained that her roommate took care of her all night and that she threw up twice.
“I’m not too worried, because I had dinner last night and I was totally fine,” Voronel said. “It was just Wednesday night that was the big hoopla.”
According to Price, the Orange County Health Department is investigating what caused students to become ill.
“While the cause of this illness is still unconfirmed, many of the circumstances suggest it is a norovirus and the Health Department recommends we respond accordingly,” Price wrote in an email.
A norovirus is very contagious and can be transmitted from infected people, contaminated food or water or by touching contaminated surfaces, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This virus can lead to stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Symptoms of norovirus don’t appear until 12 to 48 hours after exposure, according to the center.
“Since cafeterias by their nature are vulnerable to the spread of such viruses, and because weekend cafeteria traffic is much lighter, we have decided to complete a norovirus cleaning process in Randall Dining Commons this weekend,” Price wrote. “As a result, we will be serving meal plan students in the Student Union Saturday and Sunday.”
Kyler Asato, a freshman creative writing major, had lunch at the cafeteria last Wednesday and then lost his appetite. On Thursday he did not eat until 5:20 p.m. after nearly fainting during his dance class.
Asato said that he ate a sandwich and muffin from the Digital Media Arts Center. He then had a pizza from Doy’s Place which caused him to vomit.
“I went back to my room after around 45 minutes of not being able to move due to lack of energy,” Asato wrote. “Then, I had my friend give me Sprite, and went to sleep around 10. I woke up three times and barfed each time. I also had diarrhea at least four times throughout the day, starting from 11 a.m.”
Representatives from Sodexo and Student Health Services could not be immediately reached for comment.
For the record: The front page of the Dec. 7, 2015 print edition of The Panther incorrectly reports that food poisoning caused the Randall Dining Commons to close. However, evidence points that a norovirus – a form of stomach flu – caused illness, not food poisoning.