UI tries to aid those with food allergies


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Claire Barrett’s primary concern when deciding to attend the University of Iowa was whether she would find anything to eat in the cafeterias.

Last winter, the UI freshman was diagnosed with severe gluten intolerance, cutting anything with wheat, rye, and barley out of her diet.

Though University Housing and Dining offers certain accommodations for students with food allergies, some — including Barrett — said they are frustrated with a lack of labeling. To combat confusion, one Burge official called it a goal to move ingredient lists and allergen information online.

At first, Barrett said, she thought she could turn to the cafeteria’s online menus for detailed ingredient lists. Instead, she found only information about nutritional values and nut allergens.

“It would be nice to have something that tells me what has gluten,” Barrett said before dining in the Burge cafeteria on Tuesday.

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Because gluten is not listed, Barrett avoids all soups, cereals, pizza, pastas, and breads to be safe.
Students with other allergies might not have any more luck.

In the cafeteria, small signs with bright red lettering are meant to denote foods containing nuts, but students and employees said they often get knocked over or forgotten.

Despite some students’ frustration, operations manager Anne Harkins said the chefs at Burge take food allergies seriously and triple-check every food item to avoid accidental contact with allergens.

But Harkins acknowledged a lack of consistent signs could lead to accidental consumption of allergens.

Though “it’s definitely a goal” to label all major allergens, she said it would be very difficult.

“You could have four or five signs for each item,” she said. “It would be more realistic to have something online. We realized that there’s an increased need for it, but we don’t have a timeline.”

UI junior and Burge student employee Molly Middleton said she was not specifically trained to put out signs for allergens.

Middleton, who sometimes serves food, said she has wondered about allergen safety in the cafeteria, and she even tries to use a separate ice cream scoop for those containing nuts.

“I think [staff members] try really hard to keep food from being contaminated, but there’s so much food. It’s hard to double check everything,” Middleton said.

In 2006, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act required all packaged foods to be labeled with the eight major food allergens including peanuts, wheat, and milk. Burge and Hillcrest do not necessarily have to display information in the cafeterias under this law, because the food they distribute is not packaged.

UI junior Mackenzie Elmer, who said she ate at Burge daily last year and has a severe allergy to peanuts, said she often reminded cafeteria workers to put up the allergen signs.

“I think the sign needs to be large, visible, and present at all times,” she wrote in an e-mail.

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