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  • Jefferson Adams

    Facing Legal Pressure, More Colleges Provide Gluten-free Food Options

    Jefferson Adams


    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 03/29/2013 - Parents of children with food allergies can take heart in recent developments at the federal level that are mandating changes in the ways colleges and universities address food-allergy issues in their students.

    Photo: CC--wallygA recent federal civil rights settlement between the Department of Justice and Lesley University that arose from Lesley's failure to provide gluten-free food shows that traditional one-style-fits-all dining options are no longer an ­option for our institutions of higher learning.



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    The settlement requires Lesley to “continually provide” students with gluten-free dining options and pay $50,000 in damages to ensure the university is in compliance with a federal law that protects people with disabilities.

    As a result, more and more universities are scrambling to make safe food alternatives available to students with severe food allergies, including those with celiac disease, as required by the under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    This adjustment includes gluten-free food offerings, and colleges and universities in Massachusetts are among the first to attempt the adjustment. Their approaches differ slightly, but the goal is to provide a safe, reliable dining experience to students with food allergies.

    The University of Massachusetts Boston and Boston University have created gluten-free zones in cafeterias and food courts, while others are taking a more individual approach. Tufts and Harvard University, for example, are having nutritionists and dining hall staff work with students to figure out what prepared foods can and cannot be eaten and ordering specialty items as necessary.

    Tufts' plan also includes establishing a dedicated freezer-refrigerator unit in its two dining halls that is stocked with gluten-free foods. The units are kept locked, and only students with special dietary needs are given keys

    UMass Amherst publishes dining hall menus online, and identifies gluten-free offerings with a special icon. The school also has an extensive handout on what foods to avoid and whom to contact if students need gluten-free food.

    About a year ago, UMass Boston created a gluten-free zone in its food court, with a dedicated refrigerator, microwave, and toaster to minimize the risk of contamination.

    Look for the trend to continue as more and more colleges deal with the new legal realities of feeding students who have food allergies.

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    I would say that the biggest challenge colleges and universities will face (other than cross-contamination) will be students who don't understand the necessity that the appliances remain totally dedicated for those students with food issues. Will the dining room(s) for those with food issues be locked, and only those with issues will be allowed to use them? Will friends who don't have issues be allowed to dine with those who do? Will those same friends adhere to the strict necessity of no cross-contamination of either the food or the appliances? I didn't have to worry about food issues in college because I didn't discover my gluten intolerance until I was older. But I would have pushed to be allowed/able to afford to live off campus, in my own space, so that I could have controlled my own food and appliances. But even if a student can afford their own place, they will still need to be able to grab a snack to go--and that snack needs to conform to what they can/cannot have. I applaud the fact that more attention is being paid to this issue.

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    GOOD!!! I wish this ruling would apply to all employers that involve food as a job hazard (nursing homes, etc). Just because we have celiac disease doesn't mean we don't have rights.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,500 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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