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Food allergies challenge students

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Nearly 2,500 Middlebury students enjoy meals at Ross and Proctor dining halls each day, but for students with food allergies, every meal is another possible chance for disaster.

Director of Dining Services Matthew Biette is in charge of protecting students from various allergies.  A 13-year veteran of Dining Service, Biette has been director for the past seven.

Biette works closely with the Dining Services Committee, a 15-member body responsible for bringing culinary concerns of the student body to the attention of Biette and the other chefs.

“We help students get the resources they need in order to get the accommodations they need to [accommodate] food allergies,” said Paige Keren ’12, a three-year member of the committee.

According to the Keren, the five major food allergies on campus are: dairy, gluten, peanuts, almonds and soy.

Keren estimates that approximately 10 to 15 percent of Middlebury students suffer from some sort of food allergy.

She says most allergic reactions come from cross-contamination, which occurs when a food allergen comes into contact with a non-allergen food through utensils or other means.  The lack of understanding about cross-contamination concerns the Dining Committee.

“If you walked up to someone on campus, they wouldn’t understand the idea of cross-contamination,” said Keren. “A lot of students suffer because of cross-contamination.”

The nearly 200 employees of Dining Services post numerous signs advising students of possibly dangerous ingredients, but rely mostly on students to communicate their allergies.

“There is a lot of reliance on the students knowing what they can and can’t do,” explained Biette. “If you look at all the food we put our there, we try to identify, whether it’s a religious belief or a personal preference.”

While dairy and gluten allergies are easily contained, Biette says other allergens are harder to control. “Nut and shellfish allergies are the more dangerous,” he said.

Even airborne particles pose a significant threat. When grinding peanuts for their homemade peanut butter early every morning, Dining Services uses a ventilation hood so that the air is fresh by the time students file in for breakfast.

“We have to be that aware,” explained Biette.

Sarah Simonds ’11 has severe allergies to peanuts, soybeans, and other legumes. “I didn’t eat much freshman year, I was really really careful,” she said. “I still can’t touch that whole reach of the dining hall because of the open peanut butter.”

Despite her vigilance and Dining Service’s warning notices, she has approximately one allergic reaction every semester, ranging from light rashes to dangerous ingestion. Simmons credits the reactions to cross-contamination.

“People don’t realize that cross-contamination is an issue for people with severe allergies,” said Simonds. “People who eat with me and live with me tell me that they never thought about how if they put the knife in the jam after the peanut butter they are cross contaminating.”

The biggest casualty for Simonds was the panini maker. After using it her entire first-year, her friend mused how great her peanut butter and jelly sandwich tasted after being heated in the Panini maker.

“I can never use that machine again unless they make one that is specifically peanut-free,” she said.

Biette and Simonds agree that incoming first-year students with food allergies are most at risk. Biette says that first-year students with food allergies are accustomed to structured dietary guidelines and have trouble transitioning to buffet-style college dining.

“You as the student need to give up your mom at home and understand that we are the moms and dads here that are going to take care of you,” said Biette.

Simonds advises fellow students to be careful, but not limiting.

“You don’t have to make concessions,” she emphasized. “Life sucks if you can’t eat cookies so you just need to know how to control it.”

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  1. Food allergies challenge students | Price Info, Side Effects, Dosage, Compare Cost, Pros & Cons, Reviews by Patients and Customers. on September 23rd, 2010 4:58 am

    […] Food allergies challenge students Author : Reviewer Food allergies challenge students Nearly 2,500 Middlebury students enjoy meals at Ross and Proctor dining halls each day, but for students with food allergies, every meal is another possible chance for disaster. Director of Dining Services Matthew Biette is in charge of protecting students from various allergies. A 13-year veteran of Dining Service, Biette has been director for the… Read more on The Middlebury Campus […]

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Food allergies challenge students