The University of Connecticut is working on constantly making alternative food options more accessible to students with medical needs or allergies, according to assistant director of dining services Michael White.
“Part of it is a moral obligation,” White said. “I went to school here, and I have cystic fibrosis. When I was in college in the 90s, nobody did anything about it.”
White said catering to students with allergies is important in achieving a sense of equality for those who visit the dining halls around campus every day.
“We don’t look at the 1,000 kids with food allergies and say, ‘you know what, we’re just not going to put them on a meal plan. They can figure it out on their own,’” White said. “We want to be able to provide more opportunity for students. It’s about making that 10 percent, or that five percent that we deal with, feel exactly like the other 95 percent.”
White said UConn dining services has long had an issue with a 2012 Massachusetts agreement made between Lesley University and the United States Justice Department, which stated that the university had to take some degree of action to provide for those with conditions such as celiac disease, but did not specify the extent of that measure.
“We’ve always felt offended by the idea that, if you had celiac disease, a school can say to you ‘yeah, we have an option for you, here’s a choice,’” White said. “Well if we only do one gluten free item and put it on the line, what’s your choice? You eat that or you eat nothing.”
White said if a student has an issue with food allergies, they can easily contact the administration within dining services to get their necessary accommodations.
“We organize a sit down meeting in the dining hall that the student eats the majority of the meals in and invite the manager of that dining hall, a dietician if necessary and a head chef,” White said. “Each dietary sheet is held in our database and available to all dining halls in case the student chooses to eat in all eight dining halls.”
White said once these initial steps are finalized, the student and dining services remain in constant contact with one another.
“Communication can be done through email, phone or text. Each dining hall will work that out with the student,” White said. “If a student does not have time to email or call ahead it will just take a little longer for the student to get food when they arrive because we would be cooking it on the spot.”
White said dining services is hyper-aware of ensuring that cross contamination is not an issue for students with allergies who eat in the dining units.
“A gluten-free student wants deli meat? Let us get you meat from the back… or how about a student who is allergic to nuts wants ice cream? Ask and we get you ice cream from a tub that has not been opened in our freezer,” White said.
White said employees and managers alike are all trained in recognizing and understanding how to deal with allergy issues should they arise. 80 percent of dining unit staff is ServSafe certified, and the administration conducts allergy training twice a year, or as needed.
“Staff is expected to change pans as needed; wipe down stations, provide new utensils if they see someone using the same utensils for multiple items, they can also politely tell a student to be more careful next time,” White said.
Dining services director C. Dennis Pierce said it is important for the department to acknowledge the role it plays for students with and without allergies.
“As we strive to meet students’ needs, we believe that since obtaining a college education is difficult enough, finding food should not be a challenge,” Pierce said.
Taylor Harton is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. They can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.