15 November 2012

University Cafeterias on Food Allergies

Cafeterias Should Display Food Allergy Info

Adapted from 's 11/15/2012 article Source: http://theminaretonline.com/2012/11/15/article25800

At the University of Tampa students have a large variety of dining options. There is the cafeteria, Spartan Club and Stadium Center, all of which provide an assortment of places to eat. Elaina states,  "I feel that in buffet style dining, such as the Sodexo cafeteria, nutrition and allergen information for the dishes being served should be clearly displayed either in front of the cafeteria or at each respective line."
Brian Dietrich, the marketing major for Dining Services at UT, said that nutritional information and allergy information about the food served here can be found online at dining.ut.edu. Dietrich stated, “To find specific information, select the location and the weekly menu, and from there you can then select any of [Sodexo’s] menu items and the nutritional information, including possible allergens, will be shown.” (This is so typical of most corporate establishments. While it shows good effort, it is not efficient or even safe, as most staff members don't even know things like this are available. If the kitchen staff isn't preparing meals exactly to spec or they buy another product line, ingredients change. Staff must be knowledgeable and understand what's at stake when serving a food allergic person.) 
Elaina says, "This is a useful tool, if you have time to check it. However, I do not feel that it is a strong enough measure being taken for those with food allergies." (According to a study performed by  www.elucidare.co.UK, there are over 150 million people, worldwide with food allergies.) 
Based on the UT profile available at ut.edu for fall 2012 and national statistics, approximately 276 enrolled students at Tampa University, have food allergies. (This is just reported numbers- I'm certain there are more, not to mention those who will be diagnosed in the coming years and those with Celiac Disease who require 100% gluten free diet).   Allergic reactions to foods involve the rashes, hives, swelling, wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, dizziness, light-headedness, loss of consciousness, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Some people have mild reactions and others have life-threatening reactions. If anyone working in a commercial kitchen or food service industry in general, is not properly educated on food allergies or certified, serving a food allergic person is a disaster waiting to happen. 
Erica Fremming, a junior art major at UT, is allergic to tree nuts, especially almonds. She told me that she normally keeps her EpiPen close by when she knows that she is eating somewhere, but one day in the middle of October she was running late and forgot to put it in her bag. She said, “It’s rarely an issue because almost everywhere gives you information if something contains tree nuts.” When she arrived at the cafeteria she hopped into the shortest line, which happened to be the International line. While eating Fremming noticed her throat was feeling tight and sore. At first she believed that she was getting sick again, until she saw an almond in her stir-fry. She had not ordered almonds, never expected them to be in the dish, but as it turns out there were slivers of them in the sauce. When she searched her backpack she found that her EpiPen was missing.
She quickly returned to her dorm and thankfully did not have to use it, but said, “I used to not worry about eating in the cafe, but now I have to because I’m not given enough information about what I am eating, and for me, that’s life-threatening. Although this situation is partially my fault, I do believe allergy information should be made obvious to the students in the cafeteria.” I feel that situations like this could best be avoided if Sodexo posted allergen information where the food is being served, or at least on the menu displayed in front of the cafeteria.
Another student at the University of Tampa, with a tree nut allergy, said  that she asks staff in the cafeteria about tree nuts being in products, but when she asks,  "it  takes about ten minutes, because the person has to run into the back and ask.” It would be more convenient if they put up a sign that states the nutritional information, whether it is at the front of the cafeteria or where the food is actually served.
Elaina states "The open display of nutritional and allergen information would also benefit those who are conscious of their dietary intake and are interested in choosing healthy options. According to the Food and Drug Administration, Congress passed a national law requiring the listing of calories and other nutrition information on menus and menu boards by chain restaurants that have 20 or more outlets. Many research centers support this practice. I do not see how the display of this information could be anything but beneficial. It would make things more convenient for people who have allergies and for those that are trying to eat healthily. For people that are not interested in the information, it could do no harm. It may even encourage them to be aware of what they are eating. Sodexo should clearly display nutritional and allergen information in an accessible location, such as at the front of the cafeteria."
Update December 10, 2012: 
I later interviewed Aramark, a competitor of Sodexo. Aramark provides food service and managed services to large corporations, hospitals, and universities. Here was there corporate statement: 

"Our staff does receive training to great greater understanding about food allergies and the proper ways to prep and prepare meals in order to mitigate the risk of cross contamination.  Many of our recipes are standardized and our chefs/cooks should be able to tell each customer what ingredients are included in each dish.  We believe that each client location has its own special situation and needs therefore our approach is a bit less prescriptive than possibly what one may find at a chain restaurant where you can find the same menu and standardized food offering at every location.  Some of our locations have separate stations to address the needs of, for example, people like me with Celiac Disease.  Many of our higher education accounts are using symbols on their menu boards to denote common ingredients that could trigger allergies – e.g. soy, milk, wheat, peanuts, etc. – and I know from a recent tour of the facilities at one of our healthcare accounts that our kitchen and serving staffs there are diligent in ensuring proper prep and serving of meals to ensure are linked to the patient’s medical history and doctors’ orders.
 This is the company’s official position on food allergies.http://www.aramark.com/AboutARAMARK/ARAMARKOn/FoodAllergies.aspx" 
Thom Sueta
Associate Vice President, Corporate Communications

The funny thing about this comment, is the usual- what they see and what an actual consumer sees is two entirely different things. I have eaten at Aramark facilities on a regular basis- in several different settings from the hospital to the ballpark to major corporations- every experience is different.  There staff is always super friendly but if they are busy, the last thing they are going to do is get someone to provide help with food allergen information. I don't understand why they don't want to make it easy. 

Contact Food Allergy Gal by clicking or visiting ilaraholland.com

1 comment:

  1. This place is fast, clean, and full of flavor. I walked by this place is nearest on my way to work but finally made it into the place. Their menu only has a handful of items but that is what makes them good--they can focus on core dishes http://www.breakfastnearmenow.com/locations/breakfast-places-near-me/….


Thank you for posting your comment on the Food Allergy Gal blog. Please visit Facebook.com/FoodAllergyGal.