SA’s joint initiative with Dining Services to accommodate more students’ dietary preferences has recently received backlash from some students in the face of issues over allergens.
Sophomore Jenna Montague and first-year Serena Matera spoke to Campus Times about their unhappiness with Dining Services when it comes to mislabeling, cross-contamination, and not responding back to their concerns.
“Whenever I tend to have an allergic reaction, it’s usually not my fault,” Matera said. “It’s because someone mislabeled something or contaminated something, and that’s what’s been happening on this campus.”
Danforth prides itself for being a nut-free facility. However, Montague, who has a life-threatening nut allergy, encountered a sign that said a desert had almonds in it.
“I almost picked it up because Danforth is supposed to be nut-free and I usually just pick things up,” Montague said. “I always glance through the allergen information just to make sure and nuts wasn’t in the list.”
Even though the sign said the dessert had almonds in it, it actually contained no nuts. It was a signage error.
“I understand we lose credibility with a mistake like that but it caught us by surprise,” Director of Marketing and Strategic Growth David Feist said. “We want to assure people that this is something that we take very seriously. Our chefs are dedicated and vigilant of not allowing any nuts or nut products at that facility.”
Another problem brought up was the risk of cross-contamination. Matera had an allergic reaction after eating at the Street Station at Douglass, which she assumed may have been from cross-contamination or mislabeling.
“I’m just very concerned,” Matera said. “Not only am I very allergic to fish, but I know some people have allergies that are worse than mine. It’s kind of ridiculous that they can’t just look out for their students and try harder to label things correctly.”
There is also a risk of cross-contamination when it comes to using the same water to clean the spatulas used in cooking and serving.
“Students with allergies need to be comfortable simply asking for a new pan and spatula when they place their order,” Feist said. “Our staff is trained to handle requests of this nature, but if they don’t know they cannot help.”
Another station that has brought concerns is the Pasta Station at Douglass. It is not always labeled accurately and the chefs sometimes put in garnishes, like oregano, without asking students.
Baked breads from an outside facility at Danforth have also been a concern for cross-contamination. They come from a local bakery that produces many nut products.
Even though the products brought to UR do not physically contain nuts, they still may have a trace amount. Dining Services has now put up a visible sign to address this.
Although, what has not been visible enough is Grab & Go’s allergen information. Located at the bottom of the label, some students find it difficult to read.
“Whenever I get something from Grab & Go, I have to hold it over my head and look at the bottom,” Montague said. “They should be putting that on the top — it’s the most important part.”
Labels are also squished and folded over, making the nutritional information and allergens hard to read.
“We are currently looking at a new label that will better fit our packaging and thus make all the content more visible,” Feist said.
Reaching out has also been difficult for some students in regard to their dietary preferences. Matera, Montague, and friends struggled to get responses back.
Moving forward, Feist suggests for students to contact Dining, and added he will personally monitor the email. He hopes to eradicate all problems with mislabeling.
“Our location directors and supervisors are doing station audits each meal period to be sure our dishes/ingredient info/nutritional info matches what is being served,” Feist said in an email. “Our employees will be auditing all signs and labels much more vigorously and additional protocols and resources to ensure accuracy are being put in place.”