About the U.S. Colleges Directory: Comparing Food Allergy & Gluten-Free Policies

in Parenting & School, Students’ Corner
Published: November 22, 2016
collegefoodPhoto: Courtesy University of Michigan

For those looking ahead to choosing a college, fit is everything – from academics to athletics and student life. However, for the student with food allergies or celiac disease, there are also vitally important considerations regarding dining and housing options, to ensure that medically required diet needs can be accommodated.

To offer a head start on the accommodations information, Allergic Living unveils its new U.S. Colleges Directory: Comparing Food Allergy & GF Policies, encompassing 92 institutions and their policies available in the 2017 academic year.

There are three large companies that work under contract to provide dining services to hundreds of universities and colleges across the United States: Sodexo, Compass Group (with operations including Bon Appétit and Chartwells) and Aramark. These companies provide significant food allergy training and standardized procedures. As there is some variance at individual colleges and housing policies also differ, Allergic Living’s directory sets out information by institution rather than by contractor. Also, the directory includes some colleges whose dining facilities are managed independently.

To participate in the directory, each college answered 18 questions about accommodations for students with food allergies and celiac disease in three areas: Disability Services, Dining Services and Residential Housing. Those answering our questions included: dietitians, directors of dining services, executive chefs, specialists in disability services, and directors and assistant directors of housing.

The 31 institutions currently enrolled FARE’s College Food Allergy Program, which receive extensive food allergy training, were invited to take part in this directory, and almost all responded. To provide a strong cross-section of programs and geographical locations, Allergic Living canvassed many other colleges as well. Most were eager to provide information on how they meet the needs of students with food allergies and/or celiac disease.

Policies and procedures do change, so while this directory offers initial guidance, we encourage you to visit the university/college and speak with administrators about your student’s specific needs.

View Allergic Living’s state-by-state directory here.

The Big 3 Food-Service Providers

In the following section, we also asked for some elaboration on food allergy policies from Sodexo, Compass Group and Aramark.

  • Beth Winthrop, MS, RD, answered the questions for Sodexo. She is National Wellness Director for Campus Services, and the developer of the Simple Servings allergy-friendly dining program.
  • For Compass Group, Jennifer Roberts, MS, RD, who is the Senior Director of Nutrition Communications for Compass Group North America answered our questions below.
  • For Aramark, Kelley Magowan, MS, RD, LDN, provided the information. She is the East Regional Dietitian for Higher Education.
Does your company have a “standard” policy or practice for colleges in regard to food allergy students?

Sodexo: Sodexo has a food allergy policy that covers staff training, prevention of cross-contact, properly advertising foods, required front- and back-of-house signs, emergency readiness, and handling requests for special meals for food allergic customers. Sodexo Universities, which vary widely in size and geography, handle the needs of food allergic students in a variety of ways. Some prepare careful one-on-one meals, some have a My Zone personal pantry, and some have the award-winning Simple Servings (which is free of gluten and 7 top allergens). Many have a combination of all of these.

Sodexo managers and dietitians were also contributors to the FARE College Program, and work with departments within many of the universities we serve to implement FARE guidelines. This recent blog post gives more information.

Compass: We create custom programs for each of our clients that match the specific needs of each location. We serve a wide variety of colleges and universities from small commuter schools to very large universities, to graduate schools and a variety of other unique educational systems. We offer solutions to each of our clients that include menu selections, specialty pantries, dedicated stations and in some cases entire cafés that serve students with food allergies, celiac disease and other dietary restrictions.

Aramark: Aramark makes every effort to provide customers with the information they need to make decisions about which foods to eat in our dining facilities. We encourage customers to refer to our menus and ingredient information that is made available to them. Some colleges have an onsite Registered Dietitian and the resources to provide full ingredient and allergen information at point-of-service and/or on our dining website and mobile app. Other accounts look to their management team and chefs to assist customers in reviewing product labels and recipes.

Currently, some of our accounts run a station focused on preparing menu items without gluten and/or other top food allergens. We communicate to our customers that Aramark relies on our vendors’ allergy warning and ingredient listings and we do not confirm the presence or lack of an allergen.

Because we operate in commercial kitchens where ingredient substitutions, recipe revisions and cross-contact with allergens is possible, Aramark cannot guarantee that any food item will be completely free of allergens. Every account periodically reviews ingredients to verify ingredient labeling is consistent with what is provided by the manufacturer.

Does your company provide food allergy training for dining staff and/or for Resident Assistants?

Sodexo: Food Allergy training is required for all management, culinary, and front line staff. Over 1,000 Sodexo managers, chefs, cooks, and front line employees are also AllerTrain– certified. Sodexo has a number of managers and dietitians who are AllerTrain Master Trainers, and offer AllertTrain training to Resident Advisers (RAs) on our campuses, in addition to food allergies being a part of RA training on the general dining program and resources.

Compass: Training is a crucial part of our food allergen management approach across Compass Group. We have extensive training for our managers, chefs, hourly associates and other staff. These training programs are in addition to our comprehensive food safety training and focused exclusively on food allergies, celiac disease and other special dietary needs and how to safely manage these in a food service environment.

Aramark: Yes, we have mandatory web training focused on food allergies for all new employees going through onboarding as well as quarterly, onsite trainings with all employees and managers. Those accounts that run a station focused on reducing allergens, receive more in-depth, monthly trainings.

Is there a company app that includes ingredient information for all menu items served?

Sodexo: Sodexo’s state of the art test kitchen does recipe development with chefs and dietitians in partnership; resulting in recipes that are delicious and have accurate allergens and nutritionals. This information is available to our students in multiple formats: from the campus’ online menu to the “nutrition calculator,” point of service signage, and the “Bite” app.

Compass: Our solutions are customized to each client. We communicate our ingredient information in a variety of ways including in café signage, dining websites and apps. In addition, part of the Compass Group culture is to encourage open communication between our guests and our chefs and managers in each of our locations. This communication is especially important for our chef specials, which include unique menu items created at each location based on locally and seasonally available ingredients.

Aramark: Some of our accounts with an onsite Registered Dietitian are able to provide ingredient and allergen information for all menu items served. This information is made visible to the customer on our dining website and/or mobile app. For those accounts running a station focused on reducing allergens, ingredient listings are available at point-of-service for the approved recipes served at this station. Any student at any location can speak with our onsite manager who can also answer any specific recipe or ingredient questions.

How many U.S. colleges are using your services?

Sodexo: Sodexo provides integrated facilities management and food service operations to nearly 600 colleges and universities throughout North America, of which 520 include dining services.

Compass: We serve over 375 colleges and universities.

Aramark: Over 360 dining accounts.

View Allergic Living’s state-by-state directory here.