Gunnar Sadowey, Staff Writer
Food allergies pose a food safety and public health concern in the U.S. An estimated 4 to 6 percent of American children now have allergies according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As food allergies become more prominent across the country, many food services have implemented plans of action in schools, universities and restaurants to ensure people with allergies can safely consume food without having to worry about having an allergic reaction.
Samford Dining and Sodexo meet the needs of all students with food allergy concerns in a variety of ways in the Caf according to Sodexo management.
For example, Samford University’s cafeteria entrance features a sign that states, “At Sodexo, we take our customers’ food allergy questions and concerns seriously.”
“The eight most common allergies are listed on the sign that is clearly seen as soon as you walk in the door, and these cover over 90 percent of all allergies,” Samford Dining marketing specialist, Tyler Brown said.
Immediately under the allergy statement and photos of common foods known to cause allergic reactions in some individuals, a list of typical symptoms and another statement reads, “If someone has a severe allergic reaction: Call 911 immediately.”
The typical symptoms that are listed on the sign include vomiting, swelling of face and lips, difficulty breathing, coughing, sneezing and watery eyes, itchy, bumpy and red skin, or in rare cases, anaphylactic shock due to anaphylaxis, which can result in death if not treated promptly.
In these instances, the affected individual will usually have an EpiPen on hand, which provides a shot of adrenaline. This shot can be self-administered or used by a trained medical professional, which will temporarily treat the reaction. However, the individual still must go to the hospital afterwards.
“Sodexo has its own allergy awareness course that all employees are required to take,” Brown said. “All employees are made aware of cross-contact and cross-contamination, among other food safety concerns.”
Samford Dining clearly labels the products and ingredients found at each food station, along with an overview for dietary purposes and concerns.
Trisha Whitehead, operations manager of Samford Dining, stated that a main goal of the entire dining staff is to “keep students from bringing outside items inside the Caf in order to avoid cross-contacting food.”
Samford University issues employee guidelines to ensure that rules are followed within food service locations to promote health and sanitation.
“The same process of employee awareness we follow here is followed at all locations on campus,” Whitehead said.
For those students interested in specific dietary needs, the Caf features a food station known as “Simple Servings.” Students with allergy concerns, specific health requirements and vegans or vegetarians can find food products at this station.
“Simple Servings offers food that is prepped in a separate area in the kitchen,” Whitehead said. “All of the Caf’s healthiest options are at the station as they are changing almost every day.”
Whitehead and Brown said that Sodexo employees preparing food in the kitchen follow university guidelines and requirements.
According to the Sodexo website, all employees are instructed to “avoid cross-contamination between foods by thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing all food contact surfaces, food containers and utensils before and after each use.”
In addition, a special emphasis is put on washing hands and keeping the kitchen area clean and easy to maneuver.
“We train our staff to keep away from allergy concerns,” Whitehead said. “Our executive chef knows how each item in the Caf is prepped and served and can inform any person of how that item is made if they would like to know.”
The Caf does not mix any foods together by using the same equipment in preparation or serving.
“Everything has its own serving utensils,” Brown said. “Cleanliness is constantly enforced, as nothing is ever put back after being used.”
According to the Sodexo website, employees are trained to offer students and guests assistance in times of concern.
The website states, “When in doubt, refer the customer’s food allergy questions to the manager or supervisor.” No student should ever be left confused or wondering after having asked a question about food service or preparation.
Brown explained how much care and effort Sodexo employees dedicate to maintaining a sanitary and functioning environment.
“Our kitchen does not feature the normal Waffle House look,” Brown said. “All servers and supervisors are aware of the differences of cross-contact, cross-contamination, and allergies.”
Students with allergies should always be vigilant of what they consume, but allergy concerns and dietary specifications are clearly listed at all locations of food, both in the dining area and the kitchen to avoid confusion and provide various reminders to all people in the Caf.