Navigating college residences and dining with serious food allergies can be challenging. Allergies to foods such as nuts, gluten, milk, shellfish, and soy are on the rise. Some homeschoolers chose to homeschool in part due to the difficulty of safely managing a serious food allergy while in a public or private school. Life threatening allergies often persist into adulthood and it parents understandably concerned when they read about tragic stories of college students who died as a result of food exposure. As teens with serious food allergies begin to consider college options, it is essential to investigate dining service policies and consider the college’s willingness to accommodate dietary needs.
Beyond simply warning students not to rely on cafeteria food, some colleges do little for students with food allergies. Other universities have been much more proactive in creating and implementing policies to consider the needs of students with allergies and intolerances. A finding by the Department of Justice against Lesley University of Massachusetts may encourage other colleges explore this issue more carefully. Lesley was found to have violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to meet the needs of a student with Celiac disease. The university was ordered to pay a fine and to do more to develop dining plans for students with allergies.
Below you will find examples of colleges who have implemented policies designed to help students with food allergies. As you can see there are a wide range of approaches. A few schools seem to focus exclusively on concerns of nut allergic students or on students who are gluten intolerant.
Several schools have have implemented up to date technological approaches such as allowing students to text in the name of the cafeteria and what choice they’d like to make from the list of safe foods. Many colleges offer students the opportunity to meet with a dietician or chef to make sure they can find safe and nutritious options in college dining facilities. They may even custom design menus if current choices are inadequate. Students with fewer and more common allergies will typically find it easier to cope with college dining.
University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
UNC Dining has clearly made it a priority to meet the needs of students with food allergies. Students begin by meeting with the school’s Registered Dietician and with the Executive Chef. They make up an individualized plan for the student’s needs. If the student can’t have sufficient safe food from existing menu offerings they will make custom offerings. The policy is also clear that students should feel comfortable asking serving staff to change gloves or provide access to an ingredient list. The offer packed meal options for students with celiac and nut allergies as well as separate prep stations including dedicated microwaves and toasters.
Stanford offers multiple options for students with allergies. Stanford works with FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) to help protect students with food allergies. Dining halls list major allergens and offer the first dedicated nut free dining option in the nation.
Tufts is making an effort to meet the needs of students with special diets including food allergies, Celiac, and vegetarian and vegan students. Tufts dining staff meets individually with students and will make plans to make sure that they have foods on hand not that just meet the student’s dietary needs but also includes foods that the student enjoys eating. Tufts has an All9Free serving platform in one dining hall. Foods served on this platform are prepared in a separate allergy free area.
College of the Holy Cross
Holy Cross in Massachusetts has made clear efforts to make life safer for students with food allergies including students with Celiac. Students can use their phones s to tap into nutrition information online and make choices before they go to the cafeteria. Dining services also maintains a kitchenette near the cafeteria. It is stocked with specialty items and is accessible only to students with specific dietary needs.
Columbia expresses a strong commitment to making dining safe for students with food allergies. “Our culinary and kitchen teams are educated on various food allergies and sensitivities, including training to prevent cross-contamination and taking the management of food allergies seriously. Managers across each Dining unit are available to address any questions and concerns that may arise.” Students have access to a Registered Dietician with specialist training in food allergies. In addition to accommodations for peanut free and wheat free, Columbia provides options for Kosher and Halal dining.
BU Dining services “takes food allergies very seriously.” BU employs a staff person to attend to allergies and sanitation. Their goal is to insure students are empowered to manage their food allergies and can participate in cafeterias to the extent that is safe given their needs.
OU students with food allergies begin with a meeting with a dietician. After the meeting they receive a personalized plan for how the student will get their needs met through dining service. OU has a dedicated celiac kitchen and also provides individually prepared meals for students with allergies.
Purdue offers to meet individually with students with food allergies to make a plan for dining. They have a clearly stated philosophy. “Purdue Dining & Catering is not in a position to guarantee a completely allergen-free environment, rather to minimize the risk of exposure, encourage student self-responsibility, and plan for effective response to possible emergencies.”
For more information:
Food Allergy Research and Education