Colleges are no longer competing to win the affections of students on academics, culture and athletics alone. Students and their families want safety, and not just on campus streets and in the classrooms. With more than 1 in every 10 U.S. adults having a food allergy, schools are under more pressure than ever to provide safer, more allergy-friendly foodservice facilities. Here’s how to “make the grade” when it comes to allergy safety in your school’s cafeteria.
While it may not be feasible to transform an entire dining hall into a nut-free or gluten-free zone, there are little things you can do to up your allergy-safety game. For starters, look at your front- and back-of-the-house set up. Are high-risk ingredients like nuts, shellfish and gluten stored, prepared and sold away from less risky foods? If not, consider setting up allergen-free zones, like separate or designated prep areas, refrigerators, pantries, serving stations and grab-n-go merchandisers.
The nice thing about the higher-education space is that you’re dealing with adults, not children. And, although some college-bound individuals are better equipped for adulthood than others (cringe … smile), this means that part of the responsibility is in the students’ court. With that said, as a respected educational institute, you should still provide students with valuable resources, like dietary accommodation services, to help them navigate their situation and your dining halls. This can take many forms, but many schools have seen success in formalizing programs that allow students to request meal accommodations via a school app or portal, on-campus dietitian, resident advisor (RA) or disability services office.
You can make all the right moves to accommodate food allergies behind the scenes, but without top-notch communication, your efforts will fall flat. To ensure the safest dining environment, you need to also communicate with students. If you take the time to prepare nut-free menu options, also go the extra mile and put up signs and label ingredients at self-service stations. Or, if you launch a dietary accommodation program, get the word out to students via emails and marketing. Better yet, assign a staff member to head up all allergy-related communication and operations. You’ll be better for it.
One of the most effective ways to protect against an allergy-related catastrophe is to ensure that each and every foodservice staff member undergoes rigorous and ongoing allergy training. Now, this doesn’t mean that every employee goes through the same training — we know training takes time and money. Rather, figure out (or bring in someone to tell you) who needs what training. By building an educated and confident team, you’ll be better positioned to win the war on food allergies.
Bring in a third party, such as Kitchens with Confidence (KwC), to audit your foodservice facility for allergen safety. By working with a knowledgeable food-allergen and gluten-free auditor, you will receive better training and an external accreditation, or stamp of approval. This gives you peace of mind as an educational institute, but it also tells existing and potential students with special dietary needs that you care and have gone above and beyond to create a safe environment for them.
Success and efficiency go hand in hand.
Make no qualms about it, running or supporting an allergy-friendly foodservice operation takes work. The planning and execution alone can cause even the most established university to throw their hands up in frustration.
So, what’s the secret to success? Well, it’s different for every institution, but a big part has to do with efficiency. The foodservice facilities that can give students options and safety, without reinventing the wheel each and every time, tend to come out on top.
At Ovention, we’re all about making life easier for foodservice professionals. Our award-winning ovens help allergy-friendly facilities cater to the dietary requirements of their students in scalable ways. Equipped with easy-to-use controls and programmable cook settings, our ovens ensure that anyone in the kitchen can bring delicious, allergy-friendly menus to life. But don’t take our word for it. Find out what the University of New Hampshire has to say about us!
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