For some students, food options are limited — but in college, food generally serves a purpose beyond fuel. It drives social gatherings, offers new palaces, and is an exploratory adventure.
And that can lead to challenges for allergy sufferers.
Katy Petrosky, a corporate registered dietitian on Culinary Support Services at Penn State, said via email that most people are away from home for the first time while in college, so they are “responsible for getting their own meals” – which can cause a lot of “anxiety and uncertainty” for allergy sufferers.
Student Julia Holsinger said she had suffered from food allergies since birth and had to ensure that the university she attended could accommodate her.
Holsinger (junior-criminology) said that after she was accepted to Penn State, a meeting with nutritionists and dieticians confirmed that the dining halls on campus could accommodate her allergies – a deciding factor in her decision-making process at the university. .
Petrosky said that connection — from staff to student — begins at new student orientation.
Students can access signage, both print and digital, as well as one-on-one communication with chefs through the Penn State Go app, making meal preparation easy.
Depending on the students’ degree of allergies, “pre-ordered meals” can be arranged, which Petrosky says is an ideal option to avoid “cross-contact” in food preparation, especially for people with allergies. severe allergies.
Reactions can come in a variety of ways. The severity and “worry of anaphylaxis” is “disheartening,” Holsinger said, so food preparation requires great caution.
Besides pre-ordering, allergy-specific stations can be spotted at every restaurant in Penn State. From ‘Veg Life’ coolers housing dairy alternatives, to the allergy-specific ‘PURE’ station located in the East Food District, there are a variety of options on campus.
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PURE is a kosher kitchen, free from all nine major allergens, including gluten, and is open to all students. With its own kitchen and ingredients approved by the Office of the Dietitian, this resort provides “an extra layer of safety for students with food allergies,” Petrosky said.
Modifications to special events and dinner menu items are also offered at PURE, said North Food District executive chef Jeff Varcoe, which allows students with allergies to be part of social gatherings and feel included.
The diversification of options at PURE is also prevalent – made-to-order bowls, roasted vegetables, quinoa and rice, turkey meatballs, grilled chicken breast and “Taco Tuesdays” are just a few examples.
“My freshman year, I fell in love with the wings and ribs that Western Dining Room makes,” Holsinger said. “They were absolutely delicious.”
South Food District head chef Stephan Gawlowicz said “color-coded menus,” as well as customizable worksheets, are in place for students.
“They made me feel very comfortable and safe eating in the dining room,” Holsinger said.
Dining halls and staff are also making sure to consider student interest and feedback, Petrosky said.
For example, PURE is now open for lunch – on student recommendation – unlike two years ago. IT staff also responded to a need for more convenient online ordering – all systems are now in place.
Varcoe said “everything works as a team” in organizing and preparing for catering services, and the key is to “develop systems so that people are safe”.
Food allergen management training for all staff is also implemented using “AllerTrain”, which is “an accredited gluten-free and food allergy training course designed for foodservice professionals” , said Petrosky.
“In the dining halls, we serve hundreds of students with food allergies at every meal,” Petrosky said.
Petrosky said she enjoyed working with the students and “seeing the relief on their faces” when they realized they could be accommodated.
“I love that I can be a resource to help guide students through this time,” Petrosky said.
Despite the barriers caused by student allergies, Penn State Dining Services continued to open a variety of options and services to accommodate all dietary restrictions and needs.
“Living with food allergies can be difficult,” Holsinger said. “But it makes life much easier to have people or institutions that are ready to help and welcome you.”
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