Booting the gluten from an entire college dining hall

The number of U.S. colleges offering gluten-free dining options is rising, as more people learn about the seriousness of celiac disease, says Chris Rich, vice president of development for the Gluten Intolerance Group, an advocacy organization.

Another factor in the trend is a 2013 Justice Department ruling that for students with food allergies, safe campus dining options are a right protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Kent State University in Ohio has become the first U.S. university to have an entire dining hall that is certified gluten-free.

At Boston University, the three main dining halls are now certified gluten-free, which includes a pantry and kitchen station.

And the University of Chicago’s medical center and its campus food service operations recently completed a gluten-free re-certification process.

Serving students who must avoid gluten doesn’t require a separate facility, as many administrators believe. “All that’s required is a dedicated area that provides gluten-free foods and complies with health and safety standards,” Rich says.

In response to the growing demand for gluten-free and allergen-friendly foods, Kent State restructured Prentice CafÁ©, a dining area located in the co-ed dorm Prentice Hall, into a gluten-free facility.

This includes training employees, such as learning how to prevent cross-contamination and prepare foods without wheat, rye, barley, or flour blends containing these items. “No dining staff can work until they complete the training,” says Marlene Maneage, operations manager at Kent State.

Megan Brzuski, the university’s dietitian, started the process in the late spring of 2016 when she brought the Gluten Intolerance Group in to certify the cafÁ©. The process cost approximately $20,000 and included swab-testing the entire facility.

In addition to providing gluten-free meals, chefs at Prentice CafÁ© offer an assortment of vegetarian and vegan options and, upon request, will safely prepare foods to accommodate any dietary preferences or allergies.

The project received some initial pushback from faculty and students who considered gluten free a dietary choice rather than the necessity it is for some. However, the cafÁ© is now frequented by members of the school community as well as town residents who can’t find gluten-free dining elsewhere.

“Opening the facility helped develop and foster a culture of healthy eating, even with people who don’t have to avoid gluten,” says Maneage.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the gluten-free initiative is impacting enrollment. Since the cafÁ© was certified in fall 2016, families and students from as far away as Hawaii have said they chose and considered Kent State because of its gluten-free dining options, Maneage says.

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