Gourmet Dining expands allergen station to include coconut ingredients

Gourmet Dining updated their allergen stations to be more inclusive for students who have food allergies. - Graphic / Yaz Shaughnessy

When a student first begins attending college, what they will be eating is a major concern. Some students live on or near campus and are experiencing full independence from their parents for the first time, and thus, they are on their own in buying or preparing their own food. Others may still live at home with their parents and commute, but commuters still spend so much time on campus for classes, projects, and extracurriculars that they often have to rely on the food options around campus for meals. 

Food on campus becomes even more of a concern for those with allergies or intolerances. While the majority of students can find something to eat fairly easily, whether they are making their own meals with purchased groceries or buying food at restaurants in the area, it is not that simple for students who have to worry about cross-contamination. 

For these students, options may be limited significantly. This is why Rowan’s Gourmet Dining has updated its allergen stations so that they now include coconut and coconut-derived products.

Nicole Testa is Rowan’s campus dietitian, who sees students for any number of reasons, from allergies to high blood pressure to wanting to bulk up for a sport. 

“We’re always trying to make meaningful changes for our guests, [and] expand our options. So we’re trying to find a safe way to do that for our allergy-friendly students, which is what we did with expanding the menu,” said Testa. 

Though coconut is considered a tree nut by the FDA, and is therefore classified as one of the top nine allergens, coconut allergies themselves are considered relatively rare, with only an estimated 1% of the population having the allergy. All items containing coconut are clearly labeled for those who do have the allergy.  

Chris Zigan is a freshman theater design tech major. They have celiac disease, meaning they cannot consume gluten and have to be careful of cross-contaminated items. 

“The biggest difference that I’ve noticed is that Bowl Life actually just expanded their menu which is nice. I did get sick… they had the pizza and I had got it and it gave me a little bit of an allergic reaction, but I honestly don’t know if it was gluten or not,” said Zigan. 

The rest of the top nine allergens including all other tree nuts, peanuts, soy, wheat, milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, and sesame, as well as gluten, are still not included in either of Rowan’s two stations, Gr8 and Bowl Life. At these allergy stations, while precautions are taken and the risks of cross-contamination are limited, some risks still remain. 

“The first step is having the idea of what to add, whether that be from our staff, or from student suggestions…The hardest part is honestly finding products that avoid the top nine allergens and gluten. Once we find the products and ensure it is something we can get from our distributors, we trial cook with the products and even do taste tests before it makes it on the menu. It is a full team effort from start to finish with our campus dietitian, chefs, and management teams,” said Jennifer Campbell, marketing manager for Gourmet Dining.

New items include vegan cheeses, salad dressings and desserts, allergen-friendly pizza and rolls, and pasta.

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