A Mouse in the Spinach

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Student eating at Kise Commons finds dead mouse in spinach

BY: ALEX BERTSCH alexander.bertsch@go.minnstate.edu

Video from Isaac Oliphant’s Twitter account.

This video of an unlikely wildlife encounter was posted to the Twitter account of MSUM student Isaac Oliphant. The video was taken on Thursday, August 29 when Oliphant joined his friends at Kise Commons to enjoy lunch together. After getting his food, Oliphant sat down and began to comb through the steamed spinach that he had served himself, only to find the body of a dead mouse.

This was Oliphant’s first time eating at Kise, and as he told Joshua Peguero of KVLY, it will also be his last.

Thursday

After finding the mouse, Oliphant and the students he was with reported it to the Sodexo employees who staff Kise Commons. Sodexo Operations Manager Deb Nordgaard and Executive Chef Sarah Stensland went to the table and took statements from the students.

“We approached the table and apologized to the students for the incident,” Nordgaard said. “We immediately disposed of all of the spinach campus wide.”

Sodexo then comped the students’ meals and began an internal investigation.

“It came in a package of ready-to-eat spinach,” Nordgaard said. The spinach that is served by Sodexo on campus comes in two and a half pound bags and is steamed in 35 gallon kettles. Their internal investigation concluded that the mouse had come in a bag of spinach from their vendor and had been cooked with a large batch of spinach in one of the kettles. The produce vendor, BIX produce, was alerted to the incident to track where the spinach had been produced.

Sodexo staff informed Comstock Memorial Union staff of the incident, eventually informing MSUM Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Brenda Amenson-Hill.

“The staff on our team that are more day-to-day with Sodexo are in the CMU,” Amenson-Hill said. “They told me this happened, and what had already taken place.”

Friday

On Friday morning MSUM Administration met and discussed the incident. In this meeting, President Anne Blackhurst told other administration officials that she had received an email from Oliphant.

“The next day, or that night, Isaac sent a message to President Blackhurst, ” Amenson-Hill said. “She was going to be leaving … I said I would take the message and follow up with Isaac.”

Amenson-Hill reached out to the students who had been involved in the incident, but only two responded to her, one of which was Oliphant.

Saturday

Amenson-Hill made a call on Saturday to Oliphant to discuss what had happened, as well as to extend the school’s apologies for the incident. As part of an apology, Amenson-Hill worked with Sodexo to find an appropriate way to compensate Oliphant.

“Sodexo immediately offered the students that were on the meal plan some additional meals,” Amenson-Hill said. “But I wasn’t sure he’d want additional meals .”

They decided to offer Oliphant 50 Dragon Dollars which, Amenson-Hill explained, he could spend at any campus convenience store or cafe.

“I thought it was really important that we aren’t saying just come back to exactly where you had the problem,” Amenson-Hill said. “I thought that we broadened it out in a way that was meant to be more convenient for him.”

Following the phone call, Amenson-Hill told Oliphant if he had any further questions or concerns, he could contact her.

Wednesday

Over the following days, MSUM Administration and Sodexo took time to respond to questions and concerns that were sent to them, but elected not to address the student body as a whole.

“We always talk about ‘Is it something we communicate to students, or not?’” Amenson-Hill said. “And health and safety is the number one checkpoint, and in this case it wasn’t, and we had no indication that it was.”

Amenson-Hill had not heard from Oliphant since their Saturday phone call, when Oliphant sent out the following tweet via his Twitter account:

In reply to this tweet, Amenson-Hill wrote the following tweet:

Oliphant replied:

Later that night on their 10 o’clock broadcast, Valley News Live ran a story about the incident. In the story Oliphant said that he didn’t blame the school for the incident, but he wished that they would have informed students about the incident.

Amenson-Hill disagreed with the assertion that MSUM didn’t tell students.

“We’ve answered every single email, or tweet, or phone call we’ve received,” she said. “And it’s a partnership with Sodexo, so we’re working with them to get their official statement, and we both care about students.”

“Yes, it is Safe to Eat in Kise”

A joint email from the administration and Sodexo sent to the MSUM student body assured students that the mouse had come from a bag of prepackaged spinach, and the Clay County Public Health Inspector’s office was satisfied with Sodexo’s response and determined that the problem was not on Sodexo’s end.

“Currently, we are working with our produce vendor on an internal investigation. The vendor has connected with the farm that grows the spinach and preliminary findings are inconclusive at this time,” a Sodexo representative wrote. “In the interim, we will provide updates as necessary and review all safety processes and procedures.”

There is an option to end MSUM’s current contract with Sodexo at the end of the fiscal year on June 30 of next year, but so far there are no signs that this incident will have any effect on the school’s contract decision.

In regards to Oliphant’s request for a skateboard, Amenson-Hill said, “I can’t officially do that within the university state funds, so no.”

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