This University of Southern Maine aerial photograph depicts the school’s Gorham campus. An article in the campus paper on November 18, 2019 described multiple students finding scraps of metal in their food this month. Credit: Courtesy of USM

PORTLAND, Maine — University of Southern Maine students often entertain one another with social media posts lampooning the experience of eating at the campus cafeteria in Gorham.

But while digging up the occasional strand of hair in a meal is unpleasant, biting into a shard of sharp metal is enough to sound the alarm.

“What I thought was a metal spring turned out to be a piece of can shredding, like from a can opener,” said Abel Sostre, who reportedly bit into a metal scrap while trying to enjoy some chocolate pudding he scooped onto his plate from the dessert bar.

According to an article published Monday by the USM Free Press, multiple students found metal scraps dislodged from a broken food dicer in their meals at Brooks Dining Hall earlier this month. One of them described finding a “razor blade” lodged in a sandwich wrap.

Sostre, a 21-year-old electrical engineering student, said he received an apology and a refund when he reported the incident to management, and was assured the next day the kitchen threw out the faulty food equipment.

“We take food safety very seriously,” said Kevin Wiacek, operations director for Sodexo, a multinational food services and kitchen facilities management company that handles campuswide food operations for the University of Maine system. “We have been addressing this issue daily with our staff to ensure they are keenly aware of instances where this type of thing can happen. When we are able to track something to the source, we can address it immediately to prevent it from happening again.”

The kitchen’s last inspection was May 1, 2018, Wiacek said, adding that all Sodexo employees are fully uniformed, which includes wearing hats or hair nets at food facilities.

Sodexo was awarded the food-services contract for the University of Maine system in July 2016, replacing Aramark. The company serves 1,400-1,550 meals in the dining hall during weekdays, according to a spokesperson.

Sodexo has pledged to support Maine agriculture and fisheries, including a goal of serving 100 percent responsibly harvested whitefish as certified by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, by May of 2020.

Sostre, who lives on the Gorham campus, is on the meal plan at USM, and eats at Brooks Dining Hall at least twice a day. With limited alternatives, he said the experience makes him hesitant about meals going forward.

“I’ll definitely do a quick check before I eat anything,” he said. “I’ve got to think hard about whether to do the meal plan again next year.”