Panther Dining introduces allergy-free food line

Tom O’Connor, Staff Reporter

If Katelyn Olsem, a senior special education major, were to swallow an oven-baked French croissant or a hand-sliced pizza, it would not take long for an adverse reaction to settle in.

For her, that could mean an unsettled stomach or abdominal pain.

Olsem has a gluten allergy, and it became a chore to eat foods on campus that suited her needs.

But she has found it easier to locate gluten free foods this semester, as Panther Dining established an allergy-friendly food line for those with any one of the eight most common dietary constraints for this semester.

These eight allergies stem from a variety of food classifications: soya, gluten, dairy, egg, shellfish, fish, peanuts and tree nuts.

“I really do enjoy being able to not have to worry about asking people to change their gloves or get something that’s gluten free for me,” Olsem said. “It just makes things go a lot faster that way.”

Gail Abrams-Aungst, the associate director of Panther Dining, ushered in this food line at the outset of the spring semester, confident that it would cater to the diets of students with special dietary needs.

The food line is not confined to those with allergies, as all students can allot their dining swipes toward dietary conscious meals.

“A lot of universities are already doing this,” Abrams-Angst said. “They are already offering gluten free areas or stations for students, so we thought we would take it one step further and offer it completely allergen (free).”

Hopeful that they might prevent an allergic reaction, the Taylor Dining Center staff members at the allergy free food line do not come into contact with coworkers handling the other dining stations. A prep area has been isolated for the sole use of cooking meals for the novel food station.

“That is why we highly promote that it’s worry-free,” said Brian Smith, the unit director for the Taylor Dining Center, “so students have no worries of cross-contact or cross-contamination throughout the kitchen. We can’t guarantee what’s come in to the facility, but once it’s in the facility, we do everything that we can to segregate and have the separate storage areas and prep areas.”

Before the allergy free station was introduced in Taylor Hall, students were assigned a specific meal pickup time, which necessitated that they be punctual, so as to avert the possibility of a cold lunch or dinner.

Housing and Dining Services has touted that the new option will be less complicated, though students are still expected to be cognizant of their allergy, while taking the necessary precautions if need be.

The goal is for both the student and dining center staff to be mutually invested.

“We cannot take away the responsibility of the student with the issue to still manage their life situation,” said Mark Hudson, director of University Housing and Dining Services.

“If they have got a severe nut allergy, you know, they know they need to stay away from areas that could have nuts. We can’t make the world be nut-free because nuts are in a lot of different things, but we can make an area to which does not serve it.”

Tom O’Connor can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].