When we have spoken to schools about the number of students they serve who have food allergies, it is usually a dozen or so. In a few years, it could be 130 for every 1,000 students.
That is something that is already on the mind of Rick Thomas, executive director of Norris Center and Student Services for Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. “We welcome about 2,000 students to Northwestern every fall, so essentially, somewhere around 250 students are going to walk through our doors with a known food allergy.”
Theresa Laurenz, district dietitian with Sodexo, the campus foodservice provider at Northwestern, is already working with the culinary team on proper preparation techniques when serving students with special dietary needs. She also works with the students themselves to help guide them through the potential minefield that dining with an allergy can be, and helps them expand their horizons to discover what foods they can enjoy.
Many schools are already dealing with students with special dietary needs. At Davidson College in North Carolina, the bakery department is already preparing gluten-free cookies, cakes and pizza dough for students. According to Lisa Risk, the school's lead baker, to avoid contamination, she prepares the items once or twice a week after she has thoroughly cleaned the work area and uses baking implements that are only used for gluten-free baking.
Penn State University's newly renovated Pollock Dining Commons, which opens this month, features gluten-free items. All items will be labeled, initialed and dated so students can be confident that the items are safe for them to eat.
While not all schools have the ability to produce allergen-free items on their own, many manufacturers have been following the growth of food allergies and have brought items that meet dietary restrictions to market. Certain products, like soy milk, have already gone mainstream, and other items, like gluten-free breads and cookies, are easier to source than they used to be.
Although it may take a few years before the inf ux of students with food allergies occurs, now is the time to prepare for the inevitable.