As part of Cornell Dining’s efforts to be more transparent and healthy, the organization has started removing unhealthy additives from its food and has announced plans for other ways to improve the overall nutritional quality of its products.
According to Michele Lefebvre, director of nutritional management for Cornell Dining, the University started working on the plan in summer 2017 and plans to implement the changes by the end of 2018.
“In 2017, we set out to be a little bit more transparent in our ingredients and start working on some more clean ingredients in general,” Lefebvre said.
As of last year, Cornell has removed trans fat from its food and rBST, a hormone injected into animal tissues to boost milk production, from Cornell dairy products, according to Lefebvre.
By the end of the year, Cornell Dining is aiming to eliminate monosodium glutamate — a flavor enhancer — as well as soy proteins, artificial color additives, and nitrates and nitrites from its menus, according to a Cornell Campus Life press release.
By spring break Cornell Dining wants to complete removing soy proteins from the last remaining product that contains it and also expects to remove nitrates and nitrites by mid-2018, according to Lefebvre. They plan to remove MSG by the end of this year and stop using artificial color additives by January 2019, according to the press release.
Cornell Dining’s various chicken entrees, like chicken tenders and chicken tempura, are now free of fillers, which are substances like soy protein that substitute part of the meat content to lower costs, according to Lefebvre.
The organization’s pepperoni, breakfast sausage and pizza sausage are also now free of additives, which are substances like sulfites that “keep food from going bad, changing color, or altering flavors over time,” she said.
“A lot of people don’t really realize that there’s a lot of fillers in processed meat,” she said. “Our goal has been to get rid of a lot of those fillers.”
Cornell Dining aims to use “clean-labeled” meat. According to Lefebvre, this means that additives are absent from the items.
Cornell Dining had implemented other nutritional initiatives in the past, among them providing nutritional labels for food sold at Cornell Dining retail destinations.
“In 2009, I started working on getting nutrition fact labels out across campus,” Lefebvre said. “So we have them on our Grab & Go items. We have [them at] almost all of our retail locations.”
Lefebvre said that the Ivy Room and Atrium Café are the only Cornell Dining locations that do not have nutritional labels available. Lefebvre explained that Cornell Dining has been able to implement these changes “without taking a huge financial hit.”
“We are constantly working with our manufacturing companies and with our distributor to really minimize cost,” she said. “In some cases, things cost more, and [in] some cases, things cost less.” These nutritional changes will not affect dining costs for students, according to Lefebvre.
The organization is working on these changes to follow principles laid out by The Menus of Change: University Research Collaborative, an inter-university organization that promotes nutritional food, according to Lefebvre.
“Most of [the goals] are done or almost done,” she said. “We’re hoping to be done by the end of this year. We’ll move on to another set of goals by 2019.”
Manish Saha ’21 contributed reporting to this article.