College food providers respond to growing allergy concerns

Over the past decade, college campuses - including Geneseo - have been working to create a comfortable dining experience for the growing number of students suffering from food allergies.

According to a 2008 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of young people with a diagnosed food or digestive allergy increased 18 percent between 1997 and 2007.

Sarah Gittere, general manager of campus dining, said that the process of accommodating students with food allergies "can be challenging, but also provides opportunities to step outside the box and provide new ways to do things."

Campus Auxiliary Services helps students with food allergies navigate dining options by placing "carefree" labels on items that are marked with specific letters to indicate that they are free of gluten, peanuts or a number of other common allergens. The system has already been implemented in most of the grab-and-go locations, but Gittere said that it would likely soon be present at the all-you-can-eat dining centers as well.

"We have also allowed a few students with specific digestive issues to purchase items in bulk so that they can make things for themselves at home," Gittere said. "However, that is not something that is easy to do with a large number of students."

"The more students communicate with us, the better it will be," Gittere continued, encouraging students with allergies to alert servers and the CAS office of their needs. "If we don't know about the problem, we can't address it. There is a shared responsibility between the students and the dining staff. We know students can't eat the same things all the time, and we try to work with them to meet their needs."

The planned renovations to Letchworth may include features such a gluten-free kitchen and a vegetarian station, but details have not been finalized.

"I don't see the number of students with allergies decreasing," Gittere said, "but the options have come a long way and people today are more educated and understanding of food allergies and how to handle them."