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Demske: What's cooking behind the scenes at MU

By Emily C. Tate
On January 31, 2014

Miami students are highly satisfied with their on-campus food options, a 2012 survey indicates. Results showed that 95 percent of participants (6,754 students) answered as being "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with Dining Services in general, which takes into account freshness and variety as well as cleanliness and service.

Students are not the only ones noticing, though. Miami University is a part of National Association of College and University Food Service (NACUFS), a professional organization for college food services. Of its 550 member institutions, Miami is the leading recipient in Dining Awards, said Director of Procurement and Purchasing at the Demske Culinary Support Center Jon Brubacher.

"We're really proud of that," he said. "For example, one award we've won is for Best Special Event. Remember that Willy Wonka-themed dinner at Harris Dining Hall last year?"

Brubacher went on to list other awards: Best Local Use of Food, Catering, Best Vegan Recipe, Best Local Ingredients, Best Use of Technology, Best On-Campus Convenience Store. Miami University has swept the board.

But where is this award-winning food coming from and what makes it so great? That answer can be found on the outskirts of Miami's campus, barely a mile away, at the food service headquarters. Demske Culinary Support Center is a 54,000 square-foot building, where, at some point, all Miami food must go before reaching campus.

"About $10 million of food is delivered here every year, five days a week," Brubacher said. "Then, six days a week, we send it out of here to be distributed at Harris, Maplestreet, Bell Tower, everywhere on campus."

The Culinary Center's central production divides into four main sections, one of which is a large bakery, where almost all of Miami's desserts, muffins, and other breaded goods are made from scratch.

"Sundial Pizza is a huge result of the center's bakery," Senior Director for Dining and Culinary Support Services Nancy Heidtman said. "We do different doughs that are pennies to produce but don't have any preservatives - all natural, and I meant that. It's made fresh daily, never frozen - really."

In that respect, Sundial is like many others of its kind, Brubacher said.

"There are very few commercially prepared items that we buy ready-to-serve," he said. "Like the pizza dough, any pizza you would buy on campus, whether it's Sundial, Red Brick or a deep-dish pizza from Bell Tower - all of those pizzas are made on dough that is made from a specific recipe used at the Culinary Center."

The preservative-free guarantee extends beyond pizza dough alone. For the produce section of the Culinary Center, Brubacher reiterates the point.

"There are no preservatives in these food items either, anything you would expect to find at a typical salad or fruit bar," he said. "We get the shelf life by sucking the air out of the containers - oxygen reduction."

Every food item that Miami sells has its own produce-by and use-by date, according to Brubacher. Different items are given different time periods.

"For example, deli turkey, or any sandwich meat - ham, roast beef, salami - can last seven days, while some items, such as the fruit and yogurt parfaits, will last only two days before we pull them from the shelves," Brubacher said. That's not because they've gone bad, but because the quality has been reduced."

The food service employees use this meticulous level of care with other aspects of their work as well. When food is delivered, for example, they wash it in a chlorinated bath almost immediately, killing any bacteria that may have been present.

"These products are being packed in a field and trucked here - we can't put those boxes in our walk-ins," Heidtman said. "The chlorinated bath kills all the bacteria, even something like E. Coli."

Heidtman said she gets alerts on her cell phone for any USDA recalls, so she can know instantly and act fast if something were to happen.

"We don't buy from any facility that isn't USDA-approved," she said.

That goes for all deliveries, even those on a local level. Take Encounter, the burger restaurant at Maplestreet Station. The ground beef delivered to Encounter comes from a small farm just six miles away from the Culinary Center.

"He has his farmers inspected, his butcher inspected, even he is inspected by the USDA," Brubacher said, referring to the owner of the farm.

Encounter is not the only dining option on campus with locally -grown food. In fact, Brubacher said that about 25 percent of the $10 million in annual deliveries is grown, manufactured, or produced in Ohio.

The Miami Food Services employees are constantly adjusting and improving in tandem with the students' needs.

"We survey our students - in their words - 'relentlessly,' Heidtman said. "We have an online system called Miami Expressions, where students can submit any suggestions, and all of them are taken into account."

Both Brubacher and Heidtman encourage students to use this and other similar resources to reach out to the food services department at Miami. They are both happy to accommodate Miami students' wants and needs to the best of their abilities, they said.

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