Division of Housing and Food Service develops allergen-free buffet

Food allergies affect millions of Americans — and on a campus with more than 50,000 students, the dining options for those with food allergies were previously limited at UT.

Since 2012, the University had a made-to-order food accommodation process for students diagnosed with medical conditions or allergies affecting their dietary needs. Now, the University plans to open an allergen-free buffet line in fall 2016 to exclude the top eight foods that cause the most allergic reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these foods account for over 90 percent of allergic reactions.

Lindsay Wilson, registered dietitian with the Division of Housing and Food Service, said students who need accommodations previously ordered their meals through an online system.

“We have adapted with how we accommodate students over the past few years,” Wilson said.  

The special pantry with allergy-friendly ingredients and special utensils has already been used at Cypress Bend Cafe. Wilson said DHFS expanded made-to-order locations to Littlefield Patio Cafe as well, but was interested in enhancing the dining experience for students.

“This station has been on the DHFS radar for several years, because we had been listening to student feedback and we looked into providing another option for students with food allergies or who are looking for a more health-conscious diet,” Wilson said.

The buffet line will be within Jester Residence Hall, one of the largest dorms on campus, at J2, a buffet located above Jester City Limits. This new line, which will be called the Fresh and Simple Tastes (FAST) line, will be replacing the VIP Line, which offered more upscale meal options.

Cailin Rosborough, student manager on the nutrition team, started working with DHFS in November 2013, when she was a freshman. The communication studies junior has Celiac disease, and because of her own experience, was interested in providing more meal options for students with restrictive diets.

“It was the perfect opportunity to initiate food programs for students who can dine safely on campus,” Rosborough said.

Mechanical engineering freshman Kathrin James said the accommodations DHFS gave her were good, but she felt she missed out on the social aspect of dorm dining.

“I definitely missed out on that social aspect of meals,” James said. “It’s easier for me to order my meal, eat it and that’s fine. But I missed out on the sitting in the dining hall experience. Or the spontaneity of getting food with friends. The allergen friendly line will give the dining friendly experience.”

James has rheumatoid arthritis and certain foods can give her some mild discomfort, but gluten causes her joints to swell. Buffets are areas where she proceeds with caution because of the risk of mislabeled items or food tongs placed in different foods. James said the specialized line gives her the safety she needs.

“I like that it will be incorporated in the J2 buffet line so you don’t have to make a big deal about your food allergies,” James said. “I don’t mind having to explain myself in the situation — but it’s nice that I won’t have to.”