College can be a wonderful time. For many young people, it's their first taste of autonomy: away from home, legally considered an adult, no one to make sure you get to an early morning class or turn in your homework, no parent checking out your dates, "His hair is what color?"
For young adults with food allergies at college, staying healthy and reaction-free is a challenge.
The dining hall in your typical college can be a minefield due to institutional and overly processed foods, salad bars with contaminated tongs and a bureaucratic system that sees you only as student Number 475. Add to that the lowly status as underclassmen (considering most freshmen are in rooms with several roommates and no kitchen facilities), and you have the makings of a food allergy nightmare.
I was relatively lucky during my freshman year. Even though I shared one room with four other girls, we had a closet area that housed a microwave. I rented a small fridge and bought a hot water maker. Every week I shopped for fresh fruits and vegetables at the local supermarket. I opted for limited access to the dining halls, something like 30 meals per week with some flex accounts spending (which went mostly towards Colombo frozen yogurt, truth be known). I knew that my college dining hall wouldn't be safe for me with my food allergies, so I avoided it at all costs, taking my chances with local dining establishments and making do with weekly groceries. I made it through just fine.
Flash forward to now and Georgetown has taken some food allergy action.
"The upper level of O'Donovan Hall is officially a nut-free zone."
Great headline, right? The student reporter continues:
"In an effort to ensure the safety of students with nut allergies, foods such as pecan pie and peanut butter will be served only on the lower level. In addition, the pasta station has stopped serving pesto sauce, as it contains pine nuts. ‘The elimination of nuts on the upper level was created to avoid cross-contamination when students dish additional food items onto their plate,' said Kristen Hamilton, registered dietitian at O'Donovan Hall.
‘Peanut allergies are common food allergies and are definitely prevalent among the student body so it feels good to know that at least upstairs is peanut-free,' Elizabeth Ockerman (COL '11), who is allergic to peanuts, said."
What a change! However, what wasn't reported was what training, if any, the kitchen staff receives about cross contamination. Nuts on a different floor is a good start but what about where the rest of the food is processed away from the college? What about cross contamination on knives, forks or plates? How great are their dishwashing facilities?
I wish the reporter delved a bit deeper into how deep the food allergen awareness and de-contamination practices go at Georgetown.
Do you any of your have food allergic children in college? How are they faring? Are they cooking for themselves or trying to make do?
Published On: March 03, 2008