Nashville, TN

How Nashville's Vanderbilt University accommodates students with food allergies

Kelleigh Michanichou

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NASHVILLE, TN — Heading off to college means adapting to many new things, including food, especially for those with allergies.

However, students entering Vanderbilt University should have no such problem, as the university has made access to allergen-friendly food their top priority in recent years.

“We want all students to feel comfortable and at home. Food allergies are a big worry for students and their parents, so it was important for us to have a well-rounded program,” says Vanderbilt Campus Dining registered dietician Emily Suttle, RD, LDN.

In 2019, Vanderbilt opened 2301, a dining hall that’s certified free of the top 8 most common food allergens, including peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy. They converted the pizza and salad table to healthy, buildable options, including sauté bowls, salads and smoothies as well as oatmeal for breakfast.

Many food options are based on brown rice with sauces, with protein options of chicken or steak, or black beans or chickpeas for plant-based options.

For students with documented life-threatening allergies or medical dietary restrictions can use the orderIT app, Vanderbilt’s allergy-safe mobile ordering program. Food will be prepared by Kissam Kitchen, a designated allergen-safe space that’s certified gluten-free.

Currently, only about 0.01 percent of Vanderbilt’s students use the orderIT app to order their food, but having the orderIT is vital for this population of Vanderbilt, ensuring that they have their orders in a timely manner. One of the advantages of using the app is to track if students got specific allergic reactions from a particular food.

Cooks and managers in 2301 and Kassam Kitchen had undergone specialized training in food allergy safety. The program, called AllerTrain U, will teach these people about cross-contact precautions, washing and sanitizing protocol, and responding to a life-threatening allergic reaction.

AllerTrain U was created by Kitchens with Confidence, an independent food allergy accreditation and certification entity that works with foodservice operations like college dining facilities and restaurants. Vanderbilt’s partnership with AllerTrain U expands their allergy-friendly menus and sourcing allergy-safe products and obtaining products through their vendors.

Vanderbilt also received the “Best Overall Food Allergy Champion for Universities” in the fifth annual MenuTrinfo Allergy Awards.

“Vanderbilt Campus Dining is honored to be the recipient of this award,” Suttle says. The allergy program also ensured their students feel at ease and giving them the kind of peace of mind they need.

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