Caterpillar found in UC Berkeley dining hall salad bugs students, raises questions regarding food handling

Crossroads dining hall
Karen Chow/File

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UC Berkeley student Eric Cao already had a lot on his plate during the week leading up to finals. But when Cao discovered an insect at the bottom of his salad bowl at a campus dining hall, questions about campus dining halls’ food safety were tossed on as well.

A video posted by Michael Savides to the Overheard at UC Berkeley Facebook group on May 9 showed a caterpillar wriggling around a Cafe 3 dining hall salad, gaining 1,310 reactions in the group as of press time. While many comments on the video made light of the entomological encounter, it also sparked discussion of food safety practices at Cal Dining. After seeing the post and taking extra precaution the next day, Cao found a centimeter-long bug latched onto his arugula leaf.

“We regret any customer experience that didn’t meet our high standards for cleanliness and food safety, and we are working to ensure all Cal Dining staff follow our proper procedures to wash vegetables,” said campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff. “We haven’t been made aware of these alleged experiences by a customer.”

Cal Dining, UC Berkeley’s campus dining entity, is not unfamiliar with salad-related controversies. In September, another Facebook post in the Overheard group alleged that there was mold in the salad bar ventilation grill. Responding to the mold incident, Ratliff mentioned that the dining halls are examined three times per year by UC Berkeley’s Environment, Health & Safety office — which Ratliff pointed to again in his statement responding to the unexpected bugs.

Although Cao, a campus junior studying global studies, says that while the centimeter-long surprise visitor in his arugula was likely an isolated incident, he does think that the incident corresponds to larger hygiene issues in the dining halls. Cao offered some understanding for Cal Dining, saying bugs aren’t completely avoidable, considering that, after all, “it’s natural.”

“I’ve recently been trying to make (salad) a major part of my diet, but after this, I don’t know,” Cao said. “I think, you know, the timing of the thing was really humorous with everybody complaining about the dining hall, but overall, I’m not really worried. But it may reflect something else about the dining hall.”

Contact Brandon Yung at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @brandonyung1.