UChicago Dining is taking steps towards safer dining for students with allergies after problems with allergen labeling were discovered last winter. The impetus for a safer labeling system came in January when second-year Max Freedman, dining hall representative for Jannotta House, noticed discrepancies between allergen information and ingredient lists provided at Cathey Dining Commons.
Freedman wrote in an email to The Maroon that he observed milk listed as an allergen at Cathey’s Kosher station, which would be in violation of the Jewish laws of Kashrut that forbid mixing dairy and meat. “Either the station was disobeying Kosher law, or the allergen information was listed incorrectly,” Freedman said.
“I know that the corporate policy vis-à-vis allergen and nutritional labeling was always to ensure accuracy, and that the breakdown came from how the dietician had to enter recipes into the computer system that generates the signs,” he said, adding, “this is worth fixing, and they know it.”
He mentioned this incongruity to the Dining Committee at their next meeting with student representatives. “I asked whether I could go back to my house with a guarantee that allergen information would be 100 percent accurate,” he said. The answer he received from the Dining Committee “fell short of a promise,” he said, but “from what I can tell, the allergen information seems to be correct right now.”
The main goals of Aramark’s allergen policy are to follow procedures closely and to make sure that there are systems in place to monitor and evaluate all food being prepared. UChicago Dining is working closely with Aramark and is “committed to providing safe and healthy options for all students,” said Marielle Sainvilus, the director of public affairs for UChicago Dining.
Sainvilus said that UChicago Dining is focused on working with students that have special dietary needs including Kosher, Halal, vegetarian, and gluten-free options.
UChicago is accredited by the Gluten Intolerance Group and gets all Kosher meals approved by the Chicago Rabbinical Council.
At the beginning of the quarter, UChicago Dining hired its only nutritionist, Jiyoung Kang, as part of a broader effort to ensure safe nutrition at Cathey.
Kang hopes to work with student health services and FitChicago to create a program that encompasses the idea of a healthy body and a healthy mind. She believes that the best way to ensure the health of students is not to focus only on nutrition, but on overall well-being. She said she hopes that discrepancies will be resolved quickly through better communication with the students and the Dining Committee.
This year, UChicago Dining is participating in the Food Allergy Resource and Education (FARE) pilot program, which allows the dining halls to access a wide variety of new resources. These resources will allow the staff to work closer with students with allergies, according to Kang.