Shortages affecting the supply of antiallergic foods
Ruby Schweitzer’s plan to eat safely in her college dining hall came to a screeching halt a few weeks after starting her freshman year at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). Ruby, who is allergic to eggs, saw an Instagram Publish campus food services, alerting students to the possibility that food may present a risk of cross-contact with major allergens.
The announcement also states, “Effective immediately due to COVID-19 and supply chain disruptions requiring ingredient substitutions, allergen and ingredient information on menu boards, recipe cards and the website may not be up to date. “
She hasn’t eaten in a dining room since. “It’s stressful for her,” says April Schweitzer, Ruby’s mother. The news exacerbated eating anxiety in college with food allergies. Schweitzer of Cary, North Carolina, says her daughter now worries that she might end up in the emergency room with anaphylaxis, especially when hospitals are so full.
Allergic Living has learned that UNCW is just one of hundreds of colleges affected, as food service providers on campus struggle to provide allergy-free foods during a time of food supply disruptions.
Aramark, the food service company that provides food services to at least 100 colleges, including UNCW, wrote the student ad that Ruby saw. The notice also appears on the dining room websites schools served by Aramark across the country – from California to Ohio to Florida.
Allergic Living asked Aramark about the announcement and how students with food allergies and celiac disease can be sure to eat safe meals. âDue to the national impact of the pandemic on the supply chain, we encourage members of our community with food allergies to contact our on-site food service managers and dietitians who are ready to help them navigate. in their options during this period, âHeather Dotchel, Aramark’s Corporate communications, responded in an emailed statement.
âFood security has always been and will continue to be our top priority and we are committed to providing students with delicious and nutritious meals that meet their dietary needs,â she wrote.
UNCW has emailed all students about their restoration plans on this. April Schweitzer says the director of food services and the nutritionist at UNCW have tried to come up with creative solutions to ensure Ruby can have safe food options. While Schweitzer appreciates their willingness to help, Ruby’s allergist wrote a letter requesting an exemption from the meal plan.
Ruby now eats only the meals she prepares in her dormitory kitchen. âIt’s a relief that she has a kitchen upstairs in her dorm and that she has a car to do groceries. She feels a lot more confident about managing her own food, âsays Ruby’s mother. âI don’t know how we could have managed without access to a kitchen.
Widespread supply problems
Supply chain issues are evident on campuses across the country, says Betsy Craig, President and CEO of MenuTrinfo, a long-time leader in food allergy and gluten-free training. Challenges during the pandemic include the volume of supply and identification of ingredients, as well as staff shortages in food manufacturing companies.
âIn over 10 years of helping those who serve diners with food allergies, we’ve never seen anything like it before. COVID has wreaked havoc at all levels of catering in higher education, âsays Craig, whose company offers college education, an ingredient audit and a certification program for gluten-free and gluten-free meals.
Sodexo, the food service company that serves millions of students at hundreds of colleges across North America, is another large supplier facing challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
âWe are experiencing shortages in our supply chain. We know this is a temporary situation and are working closely with local, regional and national food suppliers to anticipate supply shortages at the earliest and find alternative food sources, âsaid a spokesperson. word of Sodexo.
The company says its catering and procurement teams are currently working “vigorously to source products from strong sources of supply.” Sodexo notes that it adjusts the menus as its work progresses to ensure that the products available meet the needs of its campuses.
In the manufacture of food in general, a range of factors – labor shortages due to high consumer demand and sharp increases in transport costs – causing widespread disruption.
Supply issues, in turn, affect the availability of hypoallergenic products. For example, when a factory closes and the food manufacturer consolidates manufacturing facilities. Now a brand that was previously produced in a factory free of major allergens can be produced in a facility with shared lines and also manufacturing products containing allergens.
âWhen this happens, we can no longer use the items produced in the factory because there is probably cross-contamination which will lead to a food allergy reaction,â explains the Sodexo spokesperson. Pressure on the supply chain results in more substitutions with products that often contain different ingredients than the ones they are replacing.
Importance of transparency
Craig says the campuses with which MenuTrinfo works on allergy safety are currently facing food substitutions in 30 to 42 percent of their deliveries. It is based on a review of customer invoices. His company is helping many college dining vendors, as well as campuses that don’t use a contract vendor, overcome hurdles related to the pandemic. Yet, she says, the level of substitutions MenuTrinfo is being asked to consider for allergen safety is unprecedented.
When deliveries include substitutions, foodservices working with MenuTrinfo have two choices: serve what has been delivered to them and let students know that it may or may not be different from the usual brand, says Craig. She recently worked with a dietitian who received a shipment of rolls containing dairy, instead of the usual dairy-free rolls. So, rather than not offering rolls, these rolls are now labeled as containing dairy products.
âThe suppliers we speak with are really trying to do everything in their power to make their food safe and transparent for everyone. Transparency and truth are the best option, âsays Craig.
In light of the supply chain issues, MenuTrinfo has hired more staff to verify ingredient information, research allergens, and ask manufacturers to share information. The company uses an internal database called “The Rocket” which identifies food products that MenuTrinfo “certifies free” from all or some of the 8 major allergens as well as gluten. Brands included in this database must test regularly and agree to set high standards, says Craig.
For schools that offer Sodexo Simple Meals, which are the 8 Best Gluten Free and Gluten Free, designated staff review all substitutes and consult with the registered dietitian to decide if a product is safe to use. âEvery precaution should be taken to ensure that students with food allergies can eat safely in an inclusive environment to the greatest extent possible,â said the Sodexo spokesperson.
Staying Safe at College
The situation is fluid and there is no definitive timeline for when the need for so many ingredient substitutions will abate. The disruptive nature of supply chain issues affecting foodservice at colleges across the United States certainly points to the need for increased vigilance and communication.
Here are some steps to follow:
â¢ It is essential that students with food allergies or gluten intolerance notify campus food services of their dietary restrictions and work with the college dietitian.
â¢ Parents will want to warn students with food allergies that while some campus vendors make an effort to communicate any changes and risk of cross-contact, not all websites and restaurant signage are up to date.
â¢ Find out for sure the situation at an individual college regarding the reliability of food allergy signage, website menus and on-site labeling.
â¢ With the dietitian, students will want to discuss how to find safe food options in mess rooms or get help with grocery and cooking alternatives during this time.
â¢ Perhaps especially during this difficult time, parents should again remember to always carry epinephrine auto-injectors with them.
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