Wednesday, May 31

Students navigate food allergies on a college campus

By Ellie Wilson

Staff Writer

Photo courtesy David Sims

Grabbing lunch at the Hub is a common everyday occurrence for most Trevecca students, but for sophomore David Sims, it is a careful decision he must make at each meal.

According to research conducted by Scott H. Sicherer, as many as 7 to 11 percent of college students have a food allergy that can involve life-threatening reactions. College may be the first time students have to learn how to self-manage their allergy on their own. 

“The teenager/young adult must accept responsibility associated with allergen avoidance and recognition/management of a reaction. Self-advocacy is important because the student will need to communicate with personnel regarding obtaining safe meals,” said Sicherer.

Sims is allergic to wheat, meaning that his diet is completely gluten-free. As one of many students with dietary restrictions, Sims explains what food options he and other dietary-restricted students have.

The most well-known restricted option is the Simple Servings section. Sodexo, Trevecca’s food and facilities management company, defines this dining option as “free of the top seven food allergens (wheat, eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish and soy) as well as gluten.”

“My main two options in the cafeteria each day are actually just the sandwich section and Simple Servings,” said Sims. “Then even with the sandwich line, like who’s to say that they use regular bread on there before me, and then they make my sandwich, and I won’t have another reaction due to cross-contamination. So sometimes I worry about the safety of even my second options.”

Sims believes that having a meal plan is still worth the effort. However, he spent his freshman year without one, cooking meals out of an instant pot in his Benson Hall dorm.

“Our Simple Servings line is our allergen-friendly line that is completely free from all of the big seven allergens,” said Nicole Godfrey, Trevecca’s chef manager. “And we go through regular audits to make sure that there is no cross-contamination to worry about over there for our students.”

Geraldine Vahey, resident & retail dining manager for Trevecca and Sodexo, echoes the sentiment of limited dining for students with allergies.

“It’s kind of hard to separate allergies in the retail locations because we only have a small area, especially like, say in the Hub,” said Vahey. “If you’re really highly allergic, we can’t necessarily say it’s safe to eat there. Your best bet would be just to eat in the allergy station upstairs.”

The struggle of accommodating allergies in campus retail locations became apparent in the Hub in December of 2022.

“I used to eat at the Hub, however, I was kind of under false pretenses,” said Sims. “I was told it would be safe to eat there, but because of the severity of my allergy, I just reacted to cross-contamination. So back in December, I ate in the Hub and then had a full allergic reaction. I had to use my epi-pen and because of it, I was in the hospital for like six hours.”

Sims believes his situation is reflective of the limited options for dietary restrictions. Currently, the Simple Servings section is the safest location for students with food allergies.

“Additional preparation may entail investigating food allergy policies and meeting with key school personnel,” Sicherer said.

According to Sicherer’s study, documentation about a student’s allergy is required to obtain accommodations, such as allergen-safe meals.

“Once on campus, the student should maintain close communication with food, health, and residence life services,” said Sicherer. “Students with food allergies should discuss their allergy with roommates and resident supervisors with an emphasis on allergen avoidance and what to do in an emergency, prepare for allergy management during parties, and have information (a written allergy emergency action plan) and emergency medications always on hand.”

Trevecca and Sodexo encourage students to provide feedback and concerns to make dining options as ideal as possible.

Sicherer said colleges are not required to seek out students with food allergies or any other disabilities to identify their needs. 

“It is the student’s responsibility to notify the school, typically the office of disabilities; to provide documentation; and to request any accommodations/modifications,” he said.

According to Vahey, Sodexo has a combined food committee meeting every two months with Trevecca. The committee includes several Sodexo representatives, SGA members and the dean of students. In these meetings, the school brings forward concerns, comments, questions and suggestions to help improve dining at Trevecca.

“If a student feels like their dietary needs are not being met in the dining hall, I would hope that they would come and let us know,” said Godfrey. “And I would be more than happy to make sure that we have something there that they can be a part of every day.”

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