Behind the Rumor That College Dining Hall Food Has Laxatives Added

Like most things in life, your experience with college food depends on your perspective: maybe you thought of it as a fever dream of amazing buffets, cookie cake towers, and meat-carving stations… or maybe it was a repetitive heap of glorified elementary-school cafeteria lunches. Whatever you thought of your school's food, though, one universal characteristic seems to be that it moves through people pretty damn fast.

Could it be the result of foul play?

Dining hall food's knack for speeding up digestion has led to some strange rumors around college campuses. Namely, they're lacing the food with laxatives. Several theories have circulated as to why this practice is in place, the most popular being an effort to avoid food-poisoning lawsuits. This, supposedly, would be achieved by limiting the time any potentially harmful foodstuffs remain in the guts of kids on savage buffet binges. Spoiled or subpar food may be the result of prioritizing budget over any regard for student health.

Even if it's not the result of Scrooge-like administrators demanding dining hall employees serve students rotten food, you can see why a 17-year-old might fall prey to the logic. If something were to go wrong, wouldn't it be best to poop it out quickly?

Flickr/Sodexo USA

The logic doesn't hold up

While this claim could be responded to with one giant eye-roll emoji, let's break down why this myth is absolutely bananas. First of all, there's very little you can do to stop food poisoning once you have consumed contaminated food. Once your body becomes infected with pathogens, they're unlikely to be deterred by an express bus out of your system.

Additionally, no amount of cost-cutting would make up for the astronomical fees and damage awards in a potential lawsuit against a university. "The idea that any food service provider would serve anything that isn't food in their dining halls is simply ludicrous," says a dining services representative we spoke with. "It just makes no sense."

As for the real dining hall practices in place? "We take food safety very seriously," she says. "All our chefs and managers are certified by ServSafe, a nationally recognized food safety program. [We] meet regularly to discuss safety procedures, including ways to further improve sanitation through education around frequent hand washing, sanitizing workstations, avoiding cross-contamination, and ensuring proper food temperatures."

The short version, in other words, is that there are no laxatives in your dining hall food.

So why did I poop so much in college?

"Then why am I spending class in the bathroom?" you may wonder. Either you didn't prepare and are trying to save your ass or you're busy destroying it for an entirely normal reason. "When transitioning into college, students have free rein over everything they eat," explains registered dietitian Melissa Hendricks. This freedom, coupled with the stress of school and becoming independent, often leads to changes in diet. Foods high in fat and sugar can take the place of healthier meals and trust us, they affect your pooping habits. Alcohol is another culprit, known to make everything move much faster.

So your weird digestive habits in college weren't caused by a guy slipping Ex-Lax into your powdered eggs. You can rest assured that the only reason your pizza pile and ice cream waffle tower are sending you bounding to the bathroom is because you just ate a pizza pile and an ice cream waffle tower.

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Sarah Anderson is a former Thrillist employee and current law student. She can tell you ALL about the liability risk of this stunt. Follow her @smileforsarah and @sarah_jfa.