It’s no doubt that the first year on campus for college freshman is always a challenging time.  For an increasing number of teens, living with food allergies heightens their anxiety level more than the average first year student.

milk-bread-nuts-featured.jpgAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2007 alone, three million Americans under the age of 18, or 4 percent of the under-18 age group were found to be living with food allergies.  These numbers have risen steadily since 1997, when statistics showed that 3.3 percent, or 2.3 million children in the under-18 population were living with food allergies.  The CDC notes that some children out-grow their food allergies, but many do not.

Parents, students, and university officials are learning to work together to ensure that students with food allergies are taken care of on campus.  By working with numerous universities across the country, the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, (FAAN) based in Washington, D.C. launched the FAAN College Network in October of 2009.

The FAAN College Network is a website that provides college-related food allergy resources for college students and parents.  The network provides a searchable database of over 40 colleges and universities with the contact information for food allergy representatives on each campus as well as what steps the schools have taken to accommodate students.

FAAN also provides a list of guidelines for schools to follow in accommodating students with food allergies.

In addition to joining the FAAN College Network, some Colleges and Universities have begun posting more detailed labels near food in the dining halls.  Signage in these dining halls can include anything from pointing out common allergens to full ingredient lists.  Some schools even offer convenient frozen meals and special items such as gluten-free bread to make things easier for students.

Some universities post dining information online for students and parents.  For example, Boston University (BU) dedicates a page on its Dining Services website to food allergy information.

According to BU’s website, “Our residence dining rooms do not cook with nuts or peanut oil. The

only exception is when we have a special guest chef or guest restaurant

on campus. This may happen once a semester and when this type of event

occurs, all items are clearly labeled.”

At Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, the Dining Services website also addresses food allergies.  Brown’s approach online to food allergies is to inform the student of their responsibilities as well as denote the university’s responsibilities and commitment to accommodating students with food allergies.  Also offered at Brown is an online special meal order form which allows students to create their own meals online with categorized choices and clearly labeled ingredients as gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free.

David Cipoletti, now a Doctorate student at Brown University, grew up

with food allergies and recalled some of his experiences as a freshman

at Lafayette College in the fall of 2002.  “Lafayette was fairly

accommodating to me.  I spoke to them when I arrived on campus as a freshman and they told me which foods commonly on the menu that I should avoid due to my allergies,” he said.

Time permitting, Lafayette worked with Cipoletti to make plain options for him ahead of time.  Though his experience was mostly positive, he did say that there were days where cereal or a sandwich was the only option for a couple of days.

“I think the most important thing in terms of dealing with food allergies in the dining hall is really just having a substantial number of options that allow people with different allergies and dietary concerns to be able to eat a healthy meal,” Cipoletti said.

Lafayette now offers information on their dining services website catering to students with food allergies, vegetarian/vegan diets, religious dietary needs, etc.  In order to adequately accommodate students, the school also offers one-on-one consultations with the campus chef.

The prevalence of students with food allergies has prompted schools like Brown University, College of the Holy Cross, Franklin and Marshall College, and others to open allergy-free kitchens with specially-trained cooks where students can get made-to-order meals.

At the University of New Hampshire, all three dining halls provide ready-to-order omelet and stir-fry stations with special pans for gluten-free orders only in addition to stocked refrigerators with gluten-free foods.  Students can also pre-order gluten-free meals for lunch or dinner or opt for prepared frozen entrees to self-cook in the microwave on the UNH Dining Services website.

For more information on your college or university’s food allergy accommodations, either search the FAAN College Network for your school or contact campus Dining Services over the phone or online.

For more information on Food Allergies, see FAAN’s Website.