University News

Dining services undergoes external audit of allergy practices

Recommendations include increased staff training, new offerings, more public information

staff writer
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Following concerns from students with allergies, the organization Food Allergy Research and Education conducted a review Feb. 23 and 24 regarding how Brown Dining Services prepares and serves food and recommended changes to make the process more allergy-friendly.

“When I first got on campus, I had an allergic reaction before I was able to get a consultation with (Student and Employee Accessibility Services) and register with SEAS, and you’re supposed to start the process way before you get to campus,” said Teri Minogue ’18.

Because first-year students are very dependent on Dining Services, many with dietary restrictions are left vulnerable if they do not register beforehand, she said.

Students may be shocked when they realize they need SEAS accomodations. The process to receive a SEAS consultation takes a few weeks, she added. On top of that, students must face the added difficulties of navigating their allergies within campus eateries.

“The way the dining halls are set up is self-serve, which is the most dangerous way for students with food allergies,” Minogue said.

At some University facilities, allergens exist openly: Chickpeas are placed next to the lettuce and other toppings at the salad bar, risking cross-contamination. Peanut butter sits out in the open at the Verney Wooley Dining Hall next to other condiments.

Minogue said she felt the University was not doing enough to guide students with allergies, and after speaking to others with similar dietary restrictions, she found that she was not alone.

Minogue called Kristi Grim, the college outreach manager for FARE, and she agreed to audit the University through the organization’s new College Food Allergy Program despite the fact that Brown does not number among the 12 universities chosen to pilot the initiative. The program, which aims to recommend and provide funding for improvements on campuses, was launched in 2014 and is still in development.

Jessie Curran, the dietician for BuDS, said she has been working closely with FARE “to further our support of students managing allergens on campus” and make allergen information available for all dining halls.

FARE covered the costs of Brown’s audit and training for BuDS staff members, Minogue said.

The organization has only just started the process of making changes at Brown, which may include hanging up posters in the kitchen to remind staffers about the risk of cross-contamination while cooking and expanding the food choices available, Grim said.

Grim suggested more training will be necessary for employees in retail areas like Andrews and the Blue Room. “We’ll need to come up with some of those step-by-step processes that will allow a student with a food allergy to confidently order food.”

She also said that FARE would consider taking steps “to communicate to students their responsibilities and what they need to do to keep themselves safe on campus.”

Curran also recently started a listserv for students with food allergies to reach out to each other and share their experiences and resources.

Minogue also sees a need for expanding the variety of options available through the allergy-friendly pantry, accessible by key in the Sharpe Refectory, and the preordering system, which students with medically necessary diets may use to order safe meals from dining halls around campus in advance.

“The biggest challenge I see is really in adding more food options for students with food allergies or celiac disease,” Grim said. “Of course, safety has to be the number one priority, but students also want to have access to a larger variety of tasty foods, and they may not always be able to plan their meal schedule out in advance.”

In order to get there, Grim said, “ingredient information needs to be accessible to students for more dining locations.” Currently, students may view ingredients and nutritional content for food served at the Ratty or the VDub with the My Meal application, available for smart phones, Curran said.

In February, Dining Services invited 30 students with dietary restrictions for a taste test of the products in the allergy-friendly pantry. “Through their feedback, we will be rolling out a new rotation of allergy-friendly products in the next few weeks,” she said.

Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article stated that Andrews Commons is a nut-free dining hall. In fact, it is not. The Herald regrets the error.

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