The Centers for Disease Control has reported that between 1997 and 2011 there was a 50% increase in reporting of food allergies. Also in 2011, the Journal of Pediatrics released a report that a third of children and young adults have multiple food allergies. As a result of these reports, FARE ("Food Allergy Research and Education") was formed to advocate for the over 15 million Americans living with severe food allergies. Unlike other medical conditions, there is no cure for a food allergy and treatment is limited.
At the 2016 User Group Conference, Lisa Eberhart, a registered dietitian at North Carolina State University, and Lindsay Haas, a Culinary and Nutrition Support Specialist at the University of Michigan, presented a session on the pilot program for FARE. Working from the FARE published guidelines, they shared their experiences collaborating with dining staff and students to increase transparency, accuracy, and safety in their foodservice operations.
Student Involvement and Advocacy
By the time a student with an allergy arrives on campus they are commonly isolated from their fellow students and this often leads to unnecessary risk taking with their food choices because they are embarrassed to seek out help navigating the meal options available on campus.
It is up to the campus community members to provide as much transparency as possible and create a safe environment for students so they feel comfortable and confident about advocating for themselves. Taking the time to introduce students to the chefs and foodservice teams in order to make them more comfortable because they will know who go seek out if they ever have a reaction and need assistance. "It helps students to know that there is a whole team of people on campus who are willing to help if they just reach out," says Haas of the University of Michigan.
Increasing confidence on the part of students as individuals also increases the likelihood that students will advocate for more transparency and accommodations in food options on campus as a group. At North Carolina State University the FARE pilot program attracted the attention of the campus Food Allergy Support Group who shared their experiences maneuvering campus dining. Lisa Eberhart reports her on-going work with this campus group; they are hired as secret shoppers to test the effectiveness of the informational signage and labels on what is served. These secret shoppers serve as an extra layer of quality control, and this also gives the students a better understanding of campus foodservice goals and issues.
Because of the increasing reports of food allergies in young adults, most dining service team members are already familiar with the serious nature of allergic reactions in their own families or their circle of friends. Motivation for changes at the operational level in the kitchens and prep-stations along with training the customer-facing aspects of the dining halls and cafes is strong because of this familiarity. In addition, there are numerous benefits to adopting the FARE practices. Not only are students with allergies pleased with the efforts made to provide appropriate food, the operations as a whole benefit from these practices because they demand strict recipe accuracy and inventory controls. FARE's guidelines echo the role the entire campus community plays to protect those with severe food allergies from harm. Dining service teams undergo training to become familiar with allergen mapping (understanding how food travels through the facility in order to better identify high-risk areas for cross-contact and contamination of allergens) twice a year in order to stay current on best practices.
No longer is there a sharp divide between the food preparation and customer-facing areas of operations because collectively they work in tandem to provide detailed food labels marking allergens and ingredients. It can be initially challenging for the dining service teams in the kitchen and at prep-stations to collect and manage every ingredient of every recipe served on campus in order to adjust to the standards of allergen mapping. But adoption of FARE standards is not a singular endeavor; this will remain an on-going process. It is incumbent upon the staff to decide what is communicated to the customer about allergens; it is recommended that schools incorporating FARE into their operations develop a detailed plan for execution early and stick with it as much as possible. At the front-end of operations, staff are encouraged to actively engage with customers, encourage students—particularly new arrivals to campus who are uneasy about discussing their condition—to advocate for themselves and give helpful feedback on a regular basis.