At the start of the 2016 academic year, Kent State University becomes the first university in the country to feature an entirely gluten-free dining hall on campus. Kent State restructured Prentice Café after administrators noticed that the number of students arriving on campus with gluten intolerance was rising each year. The new dining facility will meet the ever-increasing demand for gluten-free foods.

An estimated 3 million Americans suffer from celiac disease, a genetic autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive process. When a person who has celiac disease consumes gluten, the individual’s immune system attacks the small intestine and inhibits the body’s ability to absorb important nutrients. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. It is essential for those with celiac disease and sensitivity to gluten to avoid products containing these ingredients. Some individuals who have not been diagnosed with an allergy or sensitivity to gluten also choose to restrict their gluten intake as a personal preference. Until recently, however, it has often been difficult to find suitable gluten-free food options, especially when dining away from home.

Kent State aims to make college life easier for students who need or prefer gluten-free foods. At Prentice Café, all menu items are gluten-free. Although many campuses offer gluten-free products and some even offer gluten-free stations in their dining halls, Kent State is the first campus to offer an entire dining hall that is certified gluten-free.

"Students’ needs have always been our top priority," said Rich Roldan, director of university dining services at Kent State. "Students have enough to worry about - they should not havve to worry about their food being safe to eat. It is important they can eat in a safe environment, which is why we decided to make Prentice Café a gluten-free dining location."

Prentice Café earned certification from the Gluten-Free Food Services Certification Program, a food safety program offered through the Gluten Intolerance Group. The Gluten Intolerance Group is a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering the gluten-free community through consumer support, advocacy and education.

Although gluten intolerance has gained attention in recent years, it can still be challenging to address the needs of students who have celiac disease or sensitivity to gluten. One issue is students’ reluctance to self-identify as gluten intolerant. Students are sometimes self-conscious about special dietary needs and often prefer not to feel singled out when dining on campus. This was something administrators considered when developing Prentice Café.

"It’s important for students who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance to be able to have a safe location where they can go and not have to worry," explained Megan Brzuski, Kent State’s dining services dietitian. "There are many different menu items and options available for students to choose from at Prentice Café."

Anyone is welcome to dine at Prentice Café, which is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Fridays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. In addition to every item being gluten-free, the menu also features a variety of vegan and vegetarian dishes, as well as foods that support a healthy lifestyle. The café accepts meal plans, cash and credit cards.

Prentice Café opened on Aug. 29, the first day of the fall semester. A grand opening celebration will be held on Sept. 7 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Students, faculty, staff and all members of the Kent State community are invited to attend the event, which will include opportunities to sample items, as well as educational displays and prizes.

The Gluten-Free Food Service Certification Program, a program of the Gluten Intolerance Group, is a proven model of established best practices for food service establishments offering gluten-free options. Certifications and protocols are customized to the specific needs of each food service establishment who works with the Gluten-Free Food Service Certification Program, including considered factors such as facility size, number of locations and the type of food establishment. For more information about the Gluten-Free Food Service Certification program, visit www.gffoodservice.org.

For more information about Kent State’s Dining Services, visit www.kent.edu/dining.

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