Food safety concerns arise even with new dining services provider

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The allergen-free station at Upper, elements, served fish last week. despite labelling it as one of the top eight food allergens. Kim Bolduc I Concordiensis
The allergen-free station at Upper, elements, served fish last week. despite labelling it as one of the top eight food allergens. Kim Bolduc | Concordiensis

Eating meals on campus has always been a struggle for me, as I unfortunately have a mild fish and shellfish allergy.

Since freshmen year, I have had numerous allergic reactions due to cross contamination in the dining halls. When I raised this complaint to Sodexo, Union’s former dining service provider, in my sophomore year, they apologized saying there wasn’t much they could do besides encourage me to use their allergy free zone located in West Dining.

I was faced with the choice of spending time with my friends during common hour not knowing if I’d be able to breathe afterwards or of eating my meal alone content with surviving another day.

At last I saw a beacon of hope in my senior year with the installation of American Dining Creations. One of the biggest changes they brought about was students having their food served for them by dining officials rather than serving themselves.

Many students complained about this change, saying it slowed down the lines, but I applauded it because it lowered the risk of cross-contamination. Unfortunately, my accolades were drowned out by the large amount of criticism they were receiving from the general student body, and this feature that brought me so much assurance was removed.

I remained optimistic however because another change brought by the American Dining Creations was an allergy free zone, known as Elements, located in Upper Class Dining Hall. This zone came with the promise of accommodating all major food allergies in order to, as the Union Dining website quotes, give “peace of mind when you visit this location at Upper.” So even though I would be limited in my options at Upper, at least there I could share a meal with my peers without fear of an allergic reaction.

However, after last week, I feel completely defeated. To my surprise when I walked into Upper Class Dining Hall on Wednesday and approached Elements, the main dish of the day being served was Baked Herb Pollock, a type of fish.

I could not believe the irony that right next to the sign promising the zone would be free of tree nuts, peanuts, soy, gluten, fish and shellfish was a dish serving FISH.

Once again, I was back to having to worry about what I’d eat for that meal and whether or not eating would trigger a reaction.

I try to believe the best in people though, so I followed up with American Dining Creations using their online comments form. This is not the first time I have given them a review either (I asked once that they restock the bagels at Starbucks and Dutch Hollow more frequently), and in the past they emailed me back with speed. They also followed through to improve as I have never seen the bagels out of stock since then. However, this time I received no email back. I am left wondering if they even saw my comment. While the bagel comment was just a friendly suggestion, this is a more serious matter.

With each exposure to allergens, an individual with a fish allergy becomes more and more severely allergic. It can lead to the point where that individual can’t even be in the same room where fish is being prepared. This is because the proteins in fish that cause the allergic reaction are very small. So while most proteins break down before becoming airborne, fish proteins can remain intact and trigger reactions. Thus a person with a severe fish allergy wouldn’t even be able to walk through Reamer near the Ushi bar. While my allergy is not yet to that point, it could easily progress if Union College Hospitality does not make changes, or at least follow through with the changes they have promised.

And I know I’m not alone in this struggle. Approximately 20 percent of the American population have a food allergy according to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). Their website states that every three minutes, a food allergy sends someone to the ER. While this campus has been fortunate enough not to have any severe reactions occur so far, it is beginning to push its luck. Better accommodation needs to be made for those with allergies. We didn’t ask to have an allergy, and our allergy should not cause us angst when going to the dining halls.

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