Allergen-free Options Expanded in Taylor Dining Hall

Oct. 3, 2016
Marissa Smith '17
Assumption students with food allergies enjoy dedicated serving stations.
Assumption students with food allergies enjoy a dedicated-cooking station that is free of most common allergens.

Like many college students in the U.S., Maia Campbell ‘19 has a food allergy that limits her options when she’s dining out. Campbell is allergic to tree nuts and has a gluten intolerance, making it important that she knows exactly how they are prepared and exactly what goes into her meals. Which, until recently, was a challenge.

“It is so different being served my food like everyone else,” Maia Campbell ’19 enthused. “Honestly, I felt like a queen the first time I used Simple Servings.”

This past summer, Taylor Dining Hall underwent a complete renovation with new and reconfigured seating and serving stations. The most notable change to the dining hall is the introduction of “Simple Servings,” a new station that serves food free of the most common allergens: peanuts, tree nut, shellfish, wheat, soy, milk products and eggs. For students like Campbell, whose allergies have become more severe since her college search, the renovations to Taylor Dining Hall have provided her all the support she needs to continue having safe and delicious options.

“I feel more peaceful about eating at Taylor because I know that there will regularly be something there for me,” Campbell explained.

According to the latest statistics from the CDC, three million children under the age of 18 had food allergies in 2007, the product of an 18-percent increase reported between 1997 and 2007. Today, many of these students, like Campbell, are currently in college, making the need to address the problem of food allergens more pressing. Prior to leaving home, students’ families provide safe eating options, but upon arrival at college, students are primarily responsible for choosing their own, allergy-safe meals. However, Simple Servings is a solution to this problem.

Simple Servings provides a safe space outside of the allergy-free “pantry” to get fresh, made-to-order food without 90 percent of allergens. The station assures that there is no cross-contamination during the cooking process by preparing the food in a separate kitchen.

In addition to preparing food in a separate part of the kitchen, a number of measures have been implemented to ensure that food for consumption by those with an allergy is properly prepared. Taylor now includes two salad bars; one that permits students to create their own salad and the Simple Servings salad bar where Sodexo staff prepares the salad so that cross-contamination does not occur. Kathie Hanwell, general manager of Sodexo Campus Dining Services at Assumption also explained that the salad bar’s glass partition has been lowered by four inches to prevent students from reaching beneath and contaminating the allergen-free food.

Hanwell notes that the Simple Servings offerings are a big draw for families looking for safe dining options for their children.

“Many families seek out colleges and universities with a Simple Servings program to ensure a safe food program for their child with food allergen preferences,” she said. By offering this new Simple Servings station, Taylor is providing peace of mind to students, families, faculty and staff that struggle to live with food allergies.

The most common misconception about the Simple Servings station is that it is exclusively for students with allergies. However, this is not the case – anyone can enjoy the station. Simple Servings is ideal for both students with allergies and health-conscious students who like to have full awareness of what they’re eating.

“Seventy-five percent of Simple Servings items also meet our health-driven Mindful criteria, so our students don’t need to worry about compromising health and flavor,” said Hanwell. According to Sodexo, their “Mindful” items cater to those customers who are considering ingredients and portion size in order to control weight, blood sugar and other health issues.

In addition to Simple Servings, Taylor Dining Hall underwent several other renovations. Assumption College’s Director of Business Services, Todd Derderian, explained, “The main change to the dining hall was to remove the beverage wall to open up the area.” Because walls have been blown out, entire serving stations have been added and the tables have been replaced and rearranged In order to open up the space, the booths that used to line the dining area have now been replaced by almost exclusively round tables and smaller booths along the edge of the seating area.  For many students, the renovations have made Taylor a much more accessible space for students looking to enjoy a meal, especially a safe one.

“Looking back, I feel that Assumption has the most options for me,” said Campbell. “The Simple Servings food is very tasty and I am so glad to see the improvements made.”