How more dining halls are accommodating food allergies

University of Maryland provides “Purple Fridge” for students with food allergies to store and prepare meals
By: | February 13, 2020
Students with food allergies to gluten, nuts, diary, shellfish and other substances can store and prepare foods in dining halls with the new "Purple Fridges" at the University of Maryland. (Stephanie S. Cordle/University of Maryland)Students with food allergies to gluten, nuts, diary, shellfish and other substances can store and prepare foods in dining halls with the new "Purple Fridges" at the University of Maryland. (Stephanie S. Cordle/University of Maryland)

University of Maryland students with food allergies can now rest (or dine, actually) a little easier thanks to an innovation in campus dining halls.

Each dining hall now has a “Purple Fridge” station that has a self-service freezer, microwave and toaster to store and prepare meals for students with food allergies.

The university has also given purple chef coats to the lead allergen cooks in its dining halls. These cooks develop relationships with students who have food allergies as they prepare their meals and offer nutrition guidance throughout the school year.

Last year, Epi-Pens were placed in every university dining hall, and managers and supervisors were trained in their use. The stock Epi-Pen action is one campus dining programs have traditionally struggled to execute. Also, the UMD Nutrislice app shows students the allergens in all foods served in dining halls.


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Last year, the University of North Texas became the first school in its state, and one of the first in the country, to open an allergen-free dining hall.

The Kitchen West dining hall is completely free of the “Big 8” allergens: milk, eggs, fish, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, soy and shellfish, according to the university.

The Kitchen West dining hall at the University of North Texas is completely free of the “Big 8” allergens: milk, eggs, fish, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, soy and shellfish. (Michael Clements/UNT Photo)

The Kitchen West dining hall at the University of North Texas is completely free of the “Big 8” allergens: milk, eggs, fish, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, soy and shellfish. (Michael Clements/UNT Photo)

“We wanted to offer this unique dining experience so that members of our community who have food allergies could eat worry-free,” Peter Balabuch, executive director of UNT Dining Services, said in a statement. “At Kitchen West, the ‘Big 8’ allergens will never touch any of the foods or the utensils and equipment used for preparation and serving. That’s a reassuring thing for those individuals with food allergies and for the parents of our students.”

A similar, “Big 8” free dining hall opened last year at Michigan State University.


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In dining halls at Tufts University, foods without gluten, peanuts and tree nuts are stocked in sealed pantries to prevent cross-contamination, University Business reported last year.

And’s Kent State University Prentice Café was the first Gluten Intolerance Group Certified full dining location on a U.S. college campus. Dining locations at Boston University, one at Auburn University in Alabama, and three at The University of Chicago have also earned certification , UB reported.

Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh spent $250,000 to create Nourish, a takeout kitchen where all foods are prepared without gluten, wheat, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, soy and most tree nuts, according to UB.

But hurdles remain for students with food allergies. A student with a severe dairy allergy has sued the University of Kentucky, claiming discrimination, according to Allergic Living. The magazine also recently posted interviews with students who talked about how they’re living with food allergies on various campuses.


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