Navigating student allergies: How campuses are prioritizing student health
In recent years, college dining halls have found themselves grappling with a new reality: a steady rise in students presenting multiple, complex allergies and specific dietary requirements. Initially, campuses attempted to address this mounting issue through the introduction of top 9 allergy free stations. However, this approach falls short of adequately meeting the burgeoning demand. The consequences of this shortfall ripple through the student experience and even impact dining revenues, as campuses struggle to safely cater to the diverse array of student allergy needs. With this culinary conundrum at hand, universities are stepping up to transform their dining management, seeking out innovative solutions.
Today, students with allergies and their parents aren’t just evaluating universities based on academics and campus life, but they’re scrutinizing how the dining program handles food allergies when deciding on a specific university. The importance of safety is paramount; and schools with a robust allergy program can alleviate the immense anxiety for the students and their parents, as well as reduce the risk and liability for the university and their employees. It’s a pivotal factor that can sway the choice of where to pursue higher education and thereby impact student enrollment and retention.
Let’s dive into the exciting realm of collegiate dining, where two forward-thinking institutions are harnessing the power of innovative technology to enhance student well-being, provide parents peace of mind, and provide staff checks and balances to create safe meals. Vanderbilt University and the University of Massachusetts (UMass) are collegiate leaders in food allergy accommodation having deployed Touchwork’s innovative OrderIT app.
The Allergy Epidemic: A Startling Reality
According to a 2021 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 6.2 percent of adults in the United States have medically diagnosed food allergies. Yet, this statistic only scratches the surface of a much larger issue. A growing number of young individuals are presenting with increasingly complex dietary needs, further complicating the challenges faced by campus dining services.
Vanderbilt University’s Savvy Approach
Vanderbilt University is at the forefront of making students feel truly at home in their campus dining halls. Vanderbilt has taken a proactive stance, creating a café that boldly excludes the FDA’s top 9 allergens and another dining hall that is peanut, tree nut, and gluten free. But that’s not all; Vanderbilt has spiced things up by introducing the OrderIT app, a game-changer that enables students to order personalized meals tailored to their specific dietary needs. William DeShazer, The New Reality for College Dining Halls: Dozens of Dietary Restrictions, The New York Times, September 2023
UMass’s Innovative Solution
UMass has also recognized the critical importance of accommodating students with allergies and dietary restrictions. As part of their “UMass SAFE” program, they’ve introduced the OrderIT app, offering students a seamless solution for meal ordering. In 2022, the UMass Dining Nutrition team’s exceptional efforts earned them a Silver Award for the Most Innovative Wellness & Nutrition Program at NACUFS 2022. UMass SAFE App, YouTube, uploaded by UMass Dining, 30 March 2020
How it works
The process kicks off with students registering with the university dietitians to create a profile, listing their allergies and foods they need to avoid. With this profile in hand, students can then use the app to order meals from a specially prepared menu, specifying the day, time, location, and ingredients with ease. The app expertly filters out any concerning items based on the students’ allergy profile, ensuring a dining experience that’s both safe and free from anxiety. All back-of-house processes are streamlined to ensure the efficient preparation of meals and maintaining of detailed records for audit purposes.
The growing prevalence and complexity of food allergies and dietary restrictions among college students have prompted institutions like Vanderbilt University and UMass to rise to the occasion with innovative solutions. The OrderIT app, in particular, has played a central role in empowering students to make informed food choices that align with their health and dietary needs. Developed specifically for food-allergic students in a collegiate dining setting, this application serves as a prime example of how technology can cater to the unique challenges faced by today’s student population.
William DeShazer, The New Reality for College Dining Halls: Dozens of Dietary Restrictions, The New York Times, September 2023. Read more
UMass SAFE App, YouTube, uploaded by UMass Dining, 30 March 2020: Watch