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The Dickinsonian

The student news site of Dickinson College.

The Dickinsonian

The student news site of Dickinson College.

The Dickinsonian

    FROM THE ARCHIVES: No Relief Needed: College Refutes Laxative Rumors

    October 12, 2006


    Although speculation runs rampant throughout college campuses about the possible use of laxatives in cafeteria food, it has been confirmed by Keith Martin, head of dining services at Dickinson, that this is an urban legend as far as Dickinson is concerned.

    Even though Martin dispels this rumor, he said he hears the same question every year.

    “I have no idea why students think I put laxatives in the food,” he said.

    The only explanation Martin could offer for why students make such an accusation was that they are using the cafeteria as a scapegoat for either poor eating choices or health problems unrelated to the cafeteria food.

    “It’s an easy target because everyone eats here but it’s not true. If the state found that we were putting laxatives in the food there would be major issues,” Martin said.

    Jeff McManus ’10 said that although he is skeptical of the quality of the food in the cafeteria he did not believe that it contained laxatives.

    “I don’t think they put laxatives in the food, but when you are making lots of food for tons of people it’s not going to be the best quality food, and because of the quality, it is not easy to digest, making it appear to contain a laxative,” he said.

    Mary Arthur, director of student health services, said if someone is having problems with diarrhea on an ongoing basis, they need to be seen at the Health Center or referred to a specialist. She also said that there are many reasons for chronic or episodic loose stools that are completely unrelated to the use of laxatives. These include but are not limited to allergies or sensitivities to certain foods, food choices, medications and terrible eating habits like eating pepperoni pizza at 2 a.m.

    According to an article in The Boston Globe in May 2006, many college students worry that many college dining services mix laxatives into food to safeguard against food poisoning or botulism. However, this is not true at Dickinson. Martin said that Dickinson follows a series of precautions known as the Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Plan.

    The steps include checking the internal temperature of the food in the delivery properly and then storing the food in freezers or refrigerators. While the food is in storage the temperature is checked four times per day and the temperature is taken again when the food is on the serving line. Martin said another important precaution to prevent food borne illness is the enforcement of the hand washing policy.

    Arthur does not see laxatives in the college cafeteria food as a reasonable accusation.

    “Why on earth would anyone knowingly and willingly put laxatives in the food? It is simply an irrational belief, and absolutely an urban myth,” she said.

    Although the health center has an occasional student come in with nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea wanting to blame it on food poisoning from the cafeteria, Arthur said she assures it is not.

    “If the cafeteria ever had a problem with a bacteria in any of the food, we would be seeing hundreds of students with symptoms, not just one or a few,” she said.

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