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Dining Services caters to Ohio State students with food allergies

Jenelle Cooper/ Lantern photographer

If Megan Miller’s gluten intolerance would have developed two years earlier when she had an Ohio State meal plan, she said she would’ve felt hopeless.
“If I had my intolerance freshman year, I would most likely feel hopeless and have very few options for variety in my diet,” said Miller, a fourth-year in strategic communication, who discovered she was gluten-intolerant her third year of college.
Miller is one of the one in 25 adults that a 2011 study from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) says suffer from food allergies. With close to 65,000 students at OSU, University Residences and Dining Services has made strides to accommodate dietary restrictions.
“We’re seeing a lot more allergy-related issues than ever before,” said Zia Ahmed, senior director of Dining Services at OSU.
“Kennedy Commons is the model,” Ahmed said. “We were in a position to work with preparation from the ground up because of the renovations.”
Kennedy Commons re-opened last September after a year-and-a-half, $12.5 million renovation that brought air conditioning, more seating and more food offerings to the South Campus dining hall.
Ahmed said he believes dining services has hit a “home run” with the Kennedy Commons improvements due to an influx of positive student feedback.
“We’ve made a serious commitment over the past few years,” Ahmed said, referring to changes in menu options and food preparation across campus dining halls, especially in traditional dining.
Ahmed said the options for students are improving. Michelle Battista the College of Education and Human Ecology and dietitian, said new additions, like one-on-one dietary counseling, are enhancing students’ dining experience.
Students like Sarah Rust, a second-year in pre-medicine, has a potentially fatal peanut allergy.
“I’ve gotten used to it. I’ve had it my whole life so it’s more routine now and doesn’t bother me to eat out,” Rust said. “I’m more comfortable going to familiar places though, new restaurants make me a little nervous.”
When dining out, Rust said she always alerts staff about her allergy.
“I just let them know that I would appreciate it if they make sure no nuts come in contact with the food or the prep area, kind of notify them to use new utensils,” Rust said. “I don’t know if they actually do that but I haven’t had a problem yet.”
Ahmed said “allergen training” for OSU food service employees was implemented last year. This training includes education on proper food preparation.
Kitchen appliances and utensils are color-coded for specific allergies.
“For example, products that should remain gluten-free, such as a toaster for gluten-free bread, are labeled red to avoid cross-contamination,” Ahmed said.
Rust attended Miami (Ohio) University her freshman year and said campus dining there listed ingredients online, which was a “great help.”
OSU has a similar system, NetNutrition, which allows students to view nutritional facts about various dining options via the University Residences and Dining Services website. Students can also tailor menu choices to their specific allergy or intolerance, as well as select vegetarian and vegan options.

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