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College Kitchens Becoming More Allergy Friendly

February 25, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

If you're worried about how your food allergies will affect your experiences in that dorm cafeteria this fall, you're not alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predict the number of allergy sufferers will only continue to grow in the coming years, as record numbers of children with allergies grow up and head onto college campuses. To address the increase in coeds with allergies, many colleges have started to revamp their cafeteria kitchens and menus to make it easier for students to find allergy-free options.

According to the CDC, the number of Americans 18 and younger with allergies is at a record high. About 3 million, or 4 percent, of that age group suffers from food allergies; in 1997, about 2.3 million in that population reported food allergies. About 12 million people of all age groups in the United States have food allergies.

A recent article in USA Today took a look at colleges that have been making changes to their students' dining options. Franklin and Marshall College went nut-free about three years ago. (Nuts are the most problematic and common food allergy. Many places, like elementary schools and airlines, have already banned them from their menus.)  The University of New Hampshire is stocked with gluten-free foods, and its dining halls include cookware used solely in the preparation of gluten-free dishes. (You can't make a food less allergenic by cooking it, by the way.) At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, students are able to determine the exact ingredients in foods available on campus. Eventually, the school plans to run a database that catalogs foods with allergens in them. The College of the Holy Cross allows students interested in the school's meal plans to pre-order their meals via email. The school is also opening an allergy-free kitchen this fall, making it easier for students to eat in the dining hall with their friends.

The article also points to a recent initiative from the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. Last October, the group premiered its College Network, a database that allows college students to determine who they should contact at schools about their food allergies, and information about colleges that have taken measures to address food allergies. The site also gives tips on dorm living with allergies, determining whether your allergy will affect living with a roommate, and steps to take once you arrive on campus to make sure those around you know about what you're allergic to and what to do if you have an allergic reaction.


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