A sign regarding dietary restrictions is on display at In a Pickle in Redifer Commons on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019.
A sign regarding dietary restrictions is on display at In a Pickle in Redifer Commons on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019.
For some students, food options are limited — but in college, food typically serves a purpose beyond fuel. It drives social gatherings, offers new palates and is an exploratory adventure. 
And, this can lead to challenges for those with allergies. 
Corporate Registered Dietitian on Culinary Support Services at Penn State Katy Petrosky said via email that most people are away from home for the first time during college, therefore they are “responsible for procuring their own meals” — which can cause a lot of “anxiety and uncertainty” for those with allergies.
Student Julia Holsinger said she has had food allergies since birth and had to guarantee the college she would attend could accommodate her. 
Holsinger (junior-criminology) said after she was accepted to Penn State, a meeting with the nutritionists and dieticians confirmed the campus dining halls could accommodate her allergies — a great deciding factor in her college-decision process.
Petrosky said this connection — staff to student — begins as early as New Student Orientation. 
Students can access signage, both print and digital, as well as one-on-one communication with chefs through the Penn State Go app — making meal arrangements easy. 
Depending on the degree of a students’ allergies, “preordered meals” can be arranged, which Petrosky said is an ideal option to avoid any “cross-contact” in food preparation, especially for those with severe allergies.
Reactions can stem in varieties of ways. The severity and “the worry of anaphylaxis” is “distressing,” Holsinger said, so food preparation requires great caution. 
Aside from preorder, allergy-specific stations can be spotted at each Penn State dining location. From the “Veg Life” coolers housing dairy alternatives, to the allergy-specific station “PURE” located in the East Food District, there are varieties of options across campus. 
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PURE is a kosher kitchen, free of the top nine allergens including gluten, and it’s open to all students. With its own kitchen and ingredients vetted by the Registered Dietician’s Office, this station offers “an added layer of security for students with food allergies,” Petrosky said. 
Modifications of special event and featured dinner menu items are also offered at PURE, Jeff Varcoe, managing chef at North Food District, said, which allows students with allergies to be a part of the social gatherings and feel included. 
Diversification in options at PURE is also prevalent — made-to-order bowls, roasted veggies, quinoa and rice, turkey meatballs, grilled chicken breast and “Taco Tuesdays” are only a few examples. 
“My freshman year, I fell in love with the wings and ribs that the West dining hall makes,” Holsinger said. “They were absolutely delicious.”
Stephan Gawlowicz, managing chef at South Food District, said “color-coded menus,” as well as customizable spreadsheets are in place for students.
“They made me feel very comfortable and safe about eating at the dining hall,” Holsinger said.  
The dining halls and staff make sure to take student interest and feedback into account as well, Petrosky said. 
For example, PURE is now open for lunch — per student recommendation — unlike two years ago. The IT staff also responded to a need in more convenient online ordering — all systems now in place.
Varcoe said “everything kind of works as a team” in Dining Services’ organization and preparation, and the key is “developing systems so that people are safe.”
Food allergen management training for all staff is also implemented using “AllerTrain,” which is “an accredited gluten-free and food allergy training course designed for food service professionals,” Petrosky said. 
“At the dining halls, we serve hundreds of students with food allergies at each meal,” Petrosky said. 
Petrosky said she loves working with students and “seeing the relief on their faces” when they realize they can be accommodated. 
“I like that I can be a resource to help guide students through this time,” Petrosky said. 
Despite the hurdles allergies cause for students, Penn State Dining Services has continued to open a variety of options and services to accommodate all dietary restrictions and needs. 
“Living with food allergies can be challenging,” Holsinger said. “But it makes life much easier to have people or institutions that are willing to help you and accommodate you.”
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