In response to concerns that students with food allergies were having negative experiences in the Ithaca College dining halls, Dining Services held a feedback session to discuss how to better accommodate students with food allergies.
Many students who have food allergies have said that they struggle to eat properly on the college’s meal plan options. As previously reported by The Ithacan, students have said they have had negative experiences in the dining halls and run into issues with cross–contamination, uninformed dining hall staff and a lack of labeling for food products. In some cases, these experiences have caused allergic reactions. In response to these issues, Dining Services hosted a roundtable discussion Oct. 1 to get feedback from students on how to improve and better accommodate students with food allergies. Although the event focused on people with allergies, students with dietary restrictions joined the discussion session to voice their concerns as well.
Rebecca Sexton, marketing manager for Dining Services, and Dining Services Director Jeff Scott hosted the roundtable discussion. Additionally, as a preventative measure, the college hosted an EpiPen training session in Clark Lounge on Oct. 4 to teach the public how to prevent anaphylactic shock. The session was led by Public Safety Officers Mayra Colon, Charlie Sherman and Joe Opper who showed participants how to use an EpiPen to prevent themselves or others from going into anaphylactic shock as a result of an allergic reaction.
Students at the roundtable discussion said they have witnessed improper cleaning, a lack of organization in preventing cross-contamination and a lack of signage and labeling of food.
Currently, Dining Services requires managers, chefs, supervisors and lead culinary staff to complete a few courses and exams to ensure they are properly trained. These include ServSafe training and certification, which covers safe food handling, including food allergies; AllerTrain certification, focusing on safe practices regarding food allergies; and on-site training twice a year. Additionally, the college labels seven common allergens and allergy-designated areas: milk, eggs, wheat, soy, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts and gluten.
At the meeting, freshman Francesca Tangreti said that she thinks there are not enough options for vegans at the college. Currently, vegan options are offered in all three dining halls: Simple Servings at Terrace Dining Hall, which serves dishes without milk, eggs, wheat, soy, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts or gluten and My Zone at Towers Dining Hall and Campus Center Dining Hall, which serves dishes without gluten and nuts.
Tangreti said she has noticed that many designated areas do not have ingredient labels which makes it difficult for people with food allergies or dietary restrictions to determine whether or not they can eat the food. Specifically, she said she noticed that the bagels and cereals are not labeled. Tangreti said she thinks having vegan options is defeated if they are not labeled properly.
Kathie Guyler, operations manager of Dining Services, said the dining hall has improved its signage but is still working on making changes to improve.
Some students at the meeting said they have been in situations when they have asked students and staff working in the dining halls questions about ingredients, and they were unable to answer their questions or had to go through multiple people to get answers. The students suggested having at least one specialist in each dining hall to answer questions concerning the food and what it contains. Guyler said Dining Services is weighing this option.
Students also suggested making the differentiation clear between foods that contain common allergens and those that are prepared in a shared space with common allergen–containing foods, which Scott and Sexton said they are working on fixing.
Freshman Karl Meyer, who is allergic to herbs, said it would be helpful for him if the college could leave food plain and allow students to season it themselves so students with herb allergies are not restricted from eating certain dishes. Guyler said the manager at Campus Center tries to do a plain chicken on nights when meat is served to accommodate for those with allergies to certain herbs.
Guyler said Dining Services can only do so much to prevent cross–contamination. She said students who do not have allergies need to be cognizant of spaces that are allergy and gluten free. She said there have been a few instances in which people toast nongluten–free items in the gluten–free toaster, resulting in severe allergic reactions where students with gluten allergies have gone into anaphylactic shock.
She said she is unsure of how to solve this issue but that Dining Services is looking into ways to improve the setup of the dining halls.
“I don’t know what the simple answer is for cross–contamination,” she said. “We are playing with the arrangement.”