Hidden Stream staff serving a guest

Food Safety

Food safety is a priority for Penn State Housing and Food Services.

To ensure that we meet the highest standards in all aspects of food service, our food, equipment, and facilities are inspected regularly. Inspections include a review of the facility, practices, food handling process, food storage process, food preparation process, equipment, food temperatures, and employee practices.

Food Service Sanitation Course

Food handlers, directors, and managers are required to pass a Food Service Sanitation course sponsored by the National Restaurant Association. This course stresses the importance of safe food storage, handling, and preparation. Please see the Food Safety FAQs below.


Food service operations conduct monthly self-inspections and monitor equipment and serving line food temperatures. Once a semester, food service operations, the central warehouse, and Penn State Bakery are inspected (unannounced) by the Office of the Corporate Executive Chef; the chefs completing inspections are trained Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) professionals. All operations are also inspected by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture or the local health department.

Food Safety FAQs

Where do you get your meat products?
What grade do you use?
Are they USDA approved?

Meat products are purchased using specifications recommended by the USDA Meat Buyers' Guide. All meats, including boxed meats, have specifications that the vendor must meet. We purchase beef that meets USDA Choice requirements (USDA grading consists of Prime, Choice, Select, and Cutter); rarely, we may purchase USDA Select beef tenderloins. This standard is higher than that of several national steak house chains.

We purchase meat products from reliable sources, and our ground beef comes from a nationally known meat processing company. We also purchase poultry products from reliable nationally known companies.

How do you ensure the quality of your produce?

We purchase produce using predetermined specifications, and our staff inspects all produce orders thoroughly upon delivery to ensure it meets or exceeds specifications.

Are your meals prepared on campus?

Yes, all meals are prepared on campus in food service operations and service areas, unless they are prepackaged items. All breads, hamburger rolls, hot dog buns, and other baked items come from a large production bakery. Many dessert items, such as cookies, cakes, pies, Jell-O, and pudding, are made fresh daily. Some dessert items from manufacturers are served as well.

Food Services uses a computer program called FoodPro (from Aurora Systems) to provide standardized recipes for our cooks. This program provides a nutritional analysis of all food products and recipes served. Recipes are developed by the Office of the Corporate Executive Chef. We continually add new products to the menu, but only after we have sampled and tested them.

Who does the cooking?
What qualifications does Penn State require from their cooks?

The cooking staff is made up of full-time technical service employees. The lead cooks are Food Preparer A's, and assistant cooks are called Food Preparer B's. To be hired as a cook they must pass a culinary exam. Our cooks must also pass the National Restaurant Association's Applied Foodservice Sanitation (ServSafe) course. In addition, all storeroom workers, food service workers, and management staff are required to take this course. Larger operations may also have a Sous Chef who supports the culinary staff.

Who supervises meal quality?
Do you have sanitation guidelines for your facilities?
Are Penn State's facilities inspected regularly and what are the results?

A professional management staff supervises each and every meal. Over 90 percent of our management staff have degrees in either food service management, restaurant and hotel administration, nutrition, or business management. They are required to take the Applied Foodservice Sanitation program, as well as participate in all culinary training programs. The management staff requires food servers and preparers to monitor cooking and holding temperatures of all hot entrees and cold foods (salad bar and deli bar, for example) throughout the meal. These temperatures are recorded on logs and kept for two years. All staff is expected to handle food properly, including wearing gloves when handling food, and wearing proper hair restraints, clean uniforms, and aprons.

Monthly sanitation self-inspections of each unit are required. Once a semester, the food service operation, the central warehouse, and the Penn State Bakery are inspected (unannounced) by a professionally trained HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) team. A complete HACCP Inspection is performed, which requires examination of food temperatures, storage and handling, personal hygiene of food handlers, and consistent temperature monitoring.

What is foodborne illness?

Many different foodborne illnesses can result when food is handled or stored improperly. Bacteria are most often involved in a foodborne illness outbreak. Although the symptoms of each foodborne illness vary, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever are often present. It usually takes several hours to several days before most foodborne illness symptoms occur.

What does Penn State do to prevent foodborne illness?

  • Training
    Penn State Food Services requires every full-time food service employee to be certified in ServSafe. This requires taking an intense 2½-day course developed by the National Restaurant Association's Education Foundation and passing an examination. Employees receive a certificate after passing the exam and are certified for five years, at which time they must take the course and exam to become recertified.
  • Inspections
    Every food service operation is inspected each semester by a trained team of sanitation inspectors (unannounced visits) and monthly by an in-house team of employees and staff. All operations are also inspected once per year by local or state health inspectors.
  • Temperatures
    Maintaining safe cooking and holding temperatures of hot and cold food is a priority for us. Throughout every meal period, food temperatures are monitored and recorded in each operation. If hot food temperatures are not within acceptable ranges, the food is either reheated to 165 degrees F° for 15 seconds and then held at or above 140° F or discarded. If cold food temperatures are not within acceptable ranges, the food is chilled to 40° F or discarded.
  • Reliable Food Sources
    Purchased food must meet certain specifications set by our Purchasing Department before it's accepted by the Housing and Food Services warehouse and each unit. Once it is delivered to the individual food service operation (dining commons or snack bar), it is inspected again before being received.

What should I do if I suspect I have foodborne illness?

Food service is our business, and we take it very seriously. If a customer suspects a foodborne illness, we want to know about it and investigate it immediately. If you are a Penn State student and suspect foodborne illness, please contact or visit Housing and Food Services and University Health Services immediately. Procedures for such incidents are in place, and we work with the Penn State Environmental Health and Safety Department to investigate these claims.