WORKING TO BRING GLUTEN-FREE FOOD TO A COLLEGE CAFETERIA
By Aldis Gamble
A new sight greeted students returning to Haverford College this fall during their very first meal in the Dining Center. The corner of one of the two dining rooms was walled off to create a new room. On the grey clapboards over the room’s door, large letters spelled out the words “GLUTEN FREE.”
In the beginning of August, Haverford’s Facilities Management built this new room to help Dinning Services better meet the needs of students with severe gluten allergies. According to Bernie Chung-Templeton, director of dining services at the school, students with celiac disease or similar conditions must first meet the college’s nutritionist before they are given one card access to the room.
Inside the small room, gluten free baked goods, such as sandwich breads, pastries and tortillas are stocked daily, just as their glutinous counterparts are in the main dining area. Similar rooms have existed in Bryn Mawr College Dining Halls for over a year. Chung-Templeton, who also heads food services at Bryn Mawr, first piloted the idea of a segregated gluten free room at Bryn Mawr in the 2013-2014 school year, and after finding it successful, expanded the program to Haverford.
Chung-Templeton’s efforts to accommodate students with specific dietary needs are similar to those being made in colleges and universities across the country. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2007, the most recent year for data is available, 3 million, or 3.9% of children under the age of 18 have a food or digestive allergy. Additionally, in the decade between 1997 and 2006 the number of children who reported having food allergies increased significantly. In the face of these statistics, many colleges and universities have started trying to make their dining halls safer for students with food allergies.
In January 2014, Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), an organization that researches and advocates for those living with food allergies, launched the College Food Allergy Program. According to its website, the goal of this program is to work with numerous stakeholders create a “comprehensive program to improve the safety and quality of life for college students with food allergies.” The website explains this goal in a list of “five major components” which include developing “best practices guidelines” for universities to identify an accommodate students with allergies, and providing prospective college students and their parents with useful information to consider while applying to colleges.
Although College Food Allergy Program has yet to publish guidelines either for colleges or prospective students, the Resources for College Students page of FARE’s website provides an idea of what types of information may be included. A bulleted list of tips for prospective students includes such suggestions as, “Make sure the dining facilities are safe by … asking the food service director how you can verify the ingredients of each meal.” Students already in college are advised to alert their hall mates to their allergies, avoid drunkenly injecting friends with epinephrine as a joke, and wait a few hours and brush one’s teeth after eating peanuts before kissing someone with a peanut allergy.
The question of how best to accommodate students with food allergies, Chung-Templeton said, is raised at every conference for college and university food service directors she attends. Although she cannot control how students act in their dorms or social lives with regard to food allergies she does what she can to ensure that none of her staff are putting them at unnecessary risk.
Each dish served in Haverford or Bryn Mawr’s dining center is labeled with any of the top 10 most common allergens it may contain. Additionally, although Pennsylvania only requires that one manager per operation to be ServeSafe certified by the National Restaurant Association, Chung-Templeton requires all of her employees to take this food service safety course, which is offered in house yearly. Not all employees are able to pass the test required to gain the certification, however those that do not must take course again the following year.
Despite these efforts, it can still be a challenge for Chung-Templeton and her staff to meet their goal and accommodate everyone.
“One of the things we’re battling right now” she said, “is severe allergies to trace amounts of oils.” Some schools address this type of problem by simply designating one dining hall as allergen free. As a small school, Haverford doesn’t have the ability to do this. As a result, “Out of 2,500 students,” said Chung-Templeton referring to the combined population of Haverford and Bryn Mawr, “I have about one case a year that I have absolutely almost no way of taking care of that person.”
In the future, she hopes to be able to change this. “When we renovate,” she said, “it would be something I would consider – splitting the kitchen in some way. Because we do have two sides, and we don’t even run two sides all the time. We could make one side the allergy free…” Chung-Templeton has been promised that the Dining Center will undergo major renovations at some point in the near future, but no date has been set. For now, she, and the students she strives to serve, will have to make do with smaller improvements, like the new gluten free shack.