Betsy Craig and her husband, Rocky, started AllerTrain, an ANSI accredited food allergy and gluten-free training course offered by MenuTrinfo (which, according to their website is “dedicated to bettering the food-service industry by providing two major services: Certified Nutritionals and food allergy/ gluten-free identification and education”.) The course teaches foodservice professionals about the top foods causing food allergies, proper protocol for preparing food so to avoid cross-contact and to how better serve diners with special dietary needs. This will help restaurants avoid food allergy related incidents, and prepare them to handle such incidents, should they occur.
Where did the idea of AllerTrain originate and how long have you been in business?
AllerTrain was born out of my original business MenuTrinfo (mash-up of the words menu – nutrition – information). Once we set up our company nutritional software for industry in 2010 my husband realized he could tag allergens in menu items for the restaurants we provide nutritional service for. I knew that in order for it to help those with food allergies, and this new movement of gluten-free, that training needed to be in place to make a difference. Having food allergy friendly food was only step one in keeping diners safe and meeting special dietary needs.
I reached out to others in the food safety, restaurant, food nutrition, and training space to begin to build a training program I called AllerTrain. This was October 2010.
Can you explain AllerSTAR and MenuTrinfo?
AllerSTAR takes learning objectives taught in the AllerTrain educational programs and makes them singular training points taught through a monthly poster and toolkit program. This is to enhance the learning in AllerTrain and also to keep the topics of food allergies, gluten free and proper standard operating procedures on top of mind. This poster training program is for all employed at a restaurant or college who does the month AllerSTAR program. Teach, test and sign off on the learning object creates ownership with the industry and staff at any food location that takes part in AllerSTAR.
I’ve seen that you’re training many chefs in colleges who have Sodexo. What other groups are you training?
Sodexo was a clear, eager and super helpful early adopter partner for AllerTrain but we have many folks who have trained within AllerTrain courses. Folks at almost all Ivy League schools, key brands like Eat’n Park in PA, Glory Days Grill in the New England area, a part division of Panera Bread in TN, WV and VA, Cattlemen’s Steakhouse in CA, universities and colleges throughout the US (in the FARE college training program and out). College food service management companies like Parkhurst, Culinart, Aramark, and Chartwells. Many different private schools, a number of public K-12 districts, hundreds of schools in Texas, Training centers throughout the country, Amtrak, over 300 health officials in Virginia, over 75 food service professionals that work within the federal prison system, Food service managers at airports in a number of major cities, the head of F&B for the Olympics, and the list goes on and on…..
Can you tell us what is involved with training a chef at a restaurant and the staff?
A combination of training of the disease of food allergies, Celiac and intolerances, best practices for front and back of house, policy and procedure assistance and emergency protocol. Ongoing training is also a major key to keeping folks trained and confident.
Does your training cover cross contact?
Yes there is a great deal of focus on cross contact. It is key to successful food prep, cooking, delivery and satisfaction.
Do you suggest that restaurants and dining halls use separately colored utensils in the preparation of meals for food allergy and/or gluten free customers?
We fully and completely promote this concept and encourage the use of separate colors for food allergies and Gluten-free. We use the same color for both of these special dietary needs, as the method to keep people safe is the same. That is also why we teach both in AllerTrain. The teaching and tools are the same and desperately needed for success.
Do you provide ongoing training for a site and their employees? Or is it just a one time training?
Ongoing training is addressed through the AllerSTAR program. Also many locations and universities have their staff go through AllerTrain once a year despite the fact the certificate is good for 5 years. They want to keep the information top of mind yearly.
Thank you so much Betsy for creating this wonderful program to keep those with food allergy safe when dining out or in college!
There is a new issue that I’ve been hearing about frequently on college campuses, and it affects our children with pet allergies: emotional support animals.
For those students who have severe animal allergies (like my son, Morgan) living in the same dorm as these emotional support animals can be hazardous. An emotional support animal differs from a service animal, according to the National Service Animal Registry in that “an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is an animal that, by its very presence, mitigates the emotional or psychological symptoms associated with a handler’s condition or disorder. The animal does NOT need to be trained to perform a disability-specific task, whereas a service animal does.
All domesticated animals (dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, hedgehogs, rodents, mini-pigs, etc.) may serve as an ESA. The only legal protections an Emotional Support Animal has are 1) to fly with their emotionally or psychologically disabled handler in the cabin of an aircraft and 2) to qualify for no-pet housing. No other public or private entity (motels, restaurants, stores, etc.) is required to allow your ESA to accompany you and in all other instances, your ESA has no more rights than a pet.
You’ll also need to be prepared to present a letter to airlines and property managers from a licensed mental health professional stating that you are emotionally disabled and that he/she prescribes for you an emotional support animal.
My son lived in a college dorm for 2 years, and in that time, there was a HUGE increase in the number of students with emotional support animals. At the University of Denver, they recognize that the needs of a student with severe pet allergies are equal to the needs of a student with an emotional support animal. However, the only way that a school is going to know that your child has severe animal allergies is for the paperwork to be completed and medical documentation provided.
My son was placed in a dorm on one end, and the students with animals were placed on the other end. That way there was no shared ventilation, which could have exacerbated his asthma.
I’ve recently heard of two situations at two different universities where a student brought in an emotional support animal without having paperwork completed until AFTER moving in. In both cases, the roommates were unaware that there would be an animal prior to moving in. And to make matters worse, in each case, at least one of the roommates had severe pet allergies, but had neglected to tell the university of such.
Both situations have caused a large amount of stress for all involved, and the university is caught in the middle of which student needs to move out and which needs to stay.
My suggestion: if your child has severe pet allergies (and this would also include children in K-12) make sure to have the paperwork completed so that the school is aware of these allergies. This will allow for any accommodations needed, such as no contact with the animal, no field trips where the animal is present, and no shared vents with the room where the animal is located. Prior to placing a child with a pet in your child’s classroom, or allowing a college roommate to have a pet, other arrangements can be made.
I’m leaving on Monday, August 1st to study abroad! I’ll be traveling with friends for the entire month of August through Iceland, Spain, France, Italy, and Greece; then, I’ll be in Denmark for a month completing a research project; and then I’ll be at a host university in Lancaster, England from October to mid-December. Crazy times!
I’m beyond excited to embark on this adventure of a lifetime.
The planning for this process admittedly started before my Freshman year at college even began. I was excited! The University of Denver has an incredible set-up: during your junior or senior year, you can study abroad at any partner program or university (they have over 160) in over 80 countries around the world. You pay DU your normal tuition, housing, and fees and they take care of the costs at your host program or university! And, with a 3.0 GPA or higher, DU students can also qualify for the Cherrington Global Scholars program, which helps cover visa fees and flights to and from your program! Truly, DU makes it super easy to study abroad.
I knew from the get-go (as I discussed in a previous post) that I would need to study in an English-speaking country where I would have control of my food intake — so homestay programs and shared kitchen set-ups wouldn’t work. I narrowed it down to a variety of programs in the UK, New Zealand, and Australia, but eventually settled on Lancaster University. It’s quite a good school and has a variety of academic + fun programs I can get involved in!
I left all of the study abroad stuff on the backburner until this past fall, when all the study abroad applications begin. After investigating all of my options at Lancaster, I decided to pursue independent research. I had no idea (originally) what my research would be about but I knew it sounded cool and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity of studying abroad. As a Public Policy major, I’m really interested in how different governments structure their economies, health care systems, and other public sector services. I mulled around a bit with the idea of looking into the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK since it’s so different from the US health care system; but, after doing a lot of research and reading (I kid you not I read three PhD dissertations and two books and forty-odd academic journal articles), I settled on conducting research in Denmark on the way they treat small & medium-sized businesses.
I now knew that I would be spending a considerable amount of time in Denmark conducting this research and I would have to do it before my program began. Lancaster’s term starts late (the first few days of October), so I knew I had September to conduct my research.
And then, I decided that traveling with friends sounded like a cool idea — why not? I’m over there already and my flights were paid for by DU. After many months of figuring out immigration issues and friends committing and then finding out they weren’t able to, my two close friends (Thomas, my first year roommate, and Danny — or DK for short) and I decided to travel together for all of August! We didn’t really have much planned until mid-May, but we knew we wanted to see a lot of Italy.
So, the run-down for the next four-and-a-half months came to look like this:
I’ll be traveling with Thomas and DK through Iceland, Spain, France, Italy, and Greece.
I’ll be staying in Copenhagen, Denmark for the full month of September.
I’ll be attending my study abroad program at Lancaster from October to mid-December. I get home December 18th.
I am blessed to have a full-ride scholarship to DU that helps pay for my study abroad experience at Lancaster. I also applied and was awarded grants to help fund my research in Denmark. I started saving over two years ago for my study abroad experience and am also using all my personal savings to help fund my travels and other fun excursions! The point being I started planning for this incredible experience a long time ago, both financially and mentally.
Health & Safety Abroad
This was a top priority for me from the get-go. I knew (from other bloggers and food allergy families) that international travel was completely possible, even if I didn’t speak all of the languages. My Spanish is a little rusty, and I definitely don’t know how to explain anything in French or Greek, so I knew I’d be flying blind. I admit, that’s scary! But, I knew I could prepare successfully for my travels abroad and remain 100% safe.
I downloaded the Google Translate app, which can help translate things on the spot — you can even take a picture of something and it will translate it!
I also downloaded AllergySmartz, an app for my iPhone that allows me to select my food allergens and it churns out a prepared chunk of text describing my food allergies & cross contact issues in multiple different languages to give to a waiter who may not be fully fluent in English. It’s essentially a digital chef card in multiple different languages!
DU also helps its abroad students by automatically getting them membership to International SOS, a company that delivers 24/7 emergency help and advice. They don’t provide health services, but they can call an ambulance or help notify a US Embassy in case of a national security issue. DU requires all of its students call International SOS before they leave to get advice on health & safety while abroad.
My call with International SOS was fantastic. After getting a security overview of all of the countries I was traveling to (and advice to watch out for pickpocketers and such), I got to speak with an actual medical doctor (!) about my food allergies and traveling abroad. He helped clarify that I should carry a doctor’s letter to get my medication through immigration (and what should be in that letter), to always watch out for cross-contact issues in restaurants, and to always carry my EpiPens. It was really great to talk to a doctor who was so knowledgeable on food allergies and travel.
This is, in many regards, the ultimate test of self-advocacy. I’m already really quite good at advocating for myself, but to do it other countries and across languages certainly tests my own limits. My mom helped research potential issues in food overseas by reaching out through her various social media groups to figure out what other things could come up. I found out lupine flour, a flour used a lot in baking across Europe, cross reacts with nuts, and therefore isn’t good for me with peanut and tree nut allergies. Definitely going to avoid that! I have the absolute faith and confidence that I’ll be safe and I know how to take care of myself.
For medication, I’ll be carrying two EpiPens with me at all times, and I’ll have an extra two in my backpack. Because they have become so expensive, I’m traveling with EpiPens that are expiring in August of 2016 (this next month) – these are my two backups. We ordered the two new ones from Canada Drugs and got the MEDA brand, the European drug manufacturer of EpiPens, to make sure I was safe for all of my travels. They cost ~$220. I will be keeping the new ones with me. This is a definite risk, but from conversations with my allergist, the EpiPens won’t become extremely ineffective in the couple months past their expiration date. They may or may not be 100% effective, either, but we simply can’t afford to spend $220+ for a second new pair of EpiPens. I’ll also have other prescribed medication in my backpack at all times.
I researched labeling laws for the EU and the UK. Thankfully, no regulations will be changing due to Brexit in the coming months, so I’m in a sweet spot to come to the UK (especially since the pound sterling is weaker against the dollar)! Over 85% of Danes speak fluent English, so I know I won’t have too many issues communicating in restaurants regarding my food allergies. However, most of their labels are solely in Danish. I’ve become familiar with important words (mainly my food allergies) in Danish to quickly identify those while reading labels in a grocery store.
Traveling & Living
For the next 4+ months, I’ll basically only have a backpack’s worth of belongings. Since I’m traveling for the duration of August, I’ll only be carrying the things I absolutely need. Thomas, DK, and I are traveling mainly by trains, so I can’t be carrying around tons of luggage — it’s inconvenient, heavy, and unnecessary. I’ll have all the necessities, but nothing really more — clothes for different kinds of weather, some hiking shoes, flip flops, swimsuit, my medication, and some electronic & utility stuff, but that’s about it.
For August, we’ll mainly be staying in hostels or AirBnB. We used HostelWorld to find the best hostels (stayed with hostels rated 8.5+ upon the advice of a friend). We were able to check their no pet & no smoking policies, plus cost and living situations. All of our AirBnBs were strategically placed in cities we were staying longer in: for example, we’re spending 5 nights in Rome, so we got an AirBnB so we could cook our own food if we wanted, wash clothes, and so forth. All of the AirBnB’s we chose are non-smoking and pet-free!
In Denmark, I’m renting an AirBnB for the whole month. It’s also pet-free and smoke-free and the owner is even giving me a bicycle to use while I’m there! Truly a wonderful set-up. It has a kitchen and a refrigerator and I get to truly take care of myself for that whole month!
While in Lancaster, I’ll be staying in a studio dorm room. I’ll have a bed and bathroom and a small kitchenette to cook all of my food. I can take a short bus ride into Lancaster whenever I need to buy more food. It is also pet and smoke-free!
I’ve prepared just like any other student studying abroad & traveling internationally — making copies of my credit cards, passport, immigration letters and documents, making sure my housing is set up at Lancaster, booking trains — and I also prepared as someone with food allergies. I’m going to be cautious. I’m not going to be eating crazy dishes without knowing, for certain, what will be in those dishes.
And, I know, I’m going to have the time of my life! I’ll post an update probably once I get to Lancaster in October. Until then!
I want to talk about staying safe at college. For many of you, that’s many years off; for others, it’s right now! College is an exceptionally exciting time. You are free from a parental burden, you are living on your own, figuring out life for yourself, and taking on all of your own responsibilities. You have to figure out when you go to class, if you even want to go to class, when to complete homework, when to eat, when or if to exercise, when to hang out with friends, when to go to bed, and so on. There’s a lot of new personal responsibility!
And to top it off, you have to manage your food allergies. You have to make sure you carry your own epinephrine autoinjectors without a (friendly?) reminder from Mom. You have to ask people about what food they’ve eaten before you kiss them at a party. You have to figure out where you’re going to eat. This can be unbelievably scary for parents since this might be the first time they don’t have supervision of your food intake or at least even a general knowledge of what you’re eating, where you’re eating, if you’re eating, etc.
Then there are questions of accommodations — can you feel safe in your dorm room? Will your roommate be willing to accommodate your food allergies? How about the dining halls? Will you have access to a kitchen, and if so, do you feel safe using it?
Really, the questions are endless. They are so endless, in fact, you can scare yourself out of going to college and living your life. So, for the moment, stop asking yourself all of those questions.
Let’s focus on what you can do: you can advocate for yourself.
This is the fundamental principle of staying safe in college, and in life. You must be able to self-advocate. This also isn’t something you wake up one day and know how to do; it is developed over months and years of practice. Self-advocacy is a skill that every food allergic child must learn. It may be scary for your parent to let you learn how to self-advocate because it requires you to step outside of your comfort zone, learn how to tell people about your food allergies, learn the potential consequences of not telling someone about your food allergies, and get yourself into situations in which you must self-advocate. But, let me tell you something: it’s a lot scarier to go out into the real world and not know how to advocate for yourself.
Self-advocacy, at its core, is made of two main components:
Self-advocacy, and therefore staying safe in college and in life, requires you to speak up. You must be able to tell other people about your food allergies, set boundaries around what is acceptable for your safety, and demand nothing less.
To do that, you first must become comfortable with the idea that you have food allergies. Too often, we become the victims of bullying and indifference. We become identified solely as the “food allergic kid” in the class who forces everyone else not to eat PB&J’s or bring in certain foods. We’re teased for it, and in some cases, our life is threatened simply because other kids don’t understand the severity of our food allergy. I had a young boy chase me around the playground in 1st grade with a peanut butter cracker chanting, “I’m gonna kill you, I’m gonna kill you!” The good news? He and I became really close friends after he better understood why what he did was not only wrong, but dangerous.
Time and time again, we are told that we are different, that food allergies make us different. And it becomes difficult to accept the reality that we do have food allergies, that we are different, that our health and safety is threatened by a plate of fish or that croissant with almonds. And, what I still struggle with, is that I have to make other people live that reality with me. I have to ask my date to not eat any of my allergens just in case we kiss later. I have to ask my friends in the middle of Italy not to eat at this one restaurant even though we are starving after walking for 8 hours straight because most of their menu is seafood and I just don’t feel comfortable eating there.
Your life is too important to not speak up. You have to accept that you have food allergies, that you (may) wear a MedicAlert bracelet, that yes you have to explain to every waiter at every restaurant you eat at that you have food allergies. Because food allergies is not a badge of shame, but a badge of pride. Be proud of your differences. Recognize that everyone has them: you have food allergies, she has two moms, he has Crohn’s, she has dyslexia, he can’t stand horror movies, she’s afraid of heights, he gets cold easily, and so on. The beauty of food allergies is that it adds another dash of diversity to the incredible mixing pot of humanity. You are incredible and never let anyone tell you differently.
So speak up. Especially when it feels like an inconvenience, speak up. The first day I was in Copenhagen, I ate at a local cafe with a friend and ordered a simple sandwich. I was exhausted after a full day of traveling, on and off metro stops, planes, and walking everywhere. I almost didn’t ask, because I thought it might be safe. But I did, because I’ve trained myself time and time again to always ask. And it was a good thing too: the bread on the sandwich contained sesame.
Could you imagine what would have happened if I hadn’t asked? The sandwich would come out. I might recognize that it has some weird seeds in the bread, I might not. If not, I eat the bread and then go into an allergic reaction. And even if I do recognize it, then I have to explain to my waitress about my food allergies and then force them to remake the sandwich. All of that could be avoided in the first place.
Never be afraid to speak up. Always put your safety first and never settle for less.
The second part of self-advocacy provides guidelines around what to do after you speak up. After you explain your food allergies to a waiter, to a friend, or to your roommate, there is an infinite combination of responses. They may be the most accommodating and kind person you ever met; or, the dish you ordered and almost every dish on the menu at the restaurant isn’t safe because of cross contact issues.
Managing risk is the really difficult part of self-advocacy, because it requires you to train your “good judgement” muscle. Like any muscle, you need to work it out for it to strengthen.
I want to give a real-life situation that I encounter at college most days: during lunchtime at the University of Denver, the dining hall has a mix of different stations. There’s a salad bar, a pizza station, a grill station, a soup station, and a variety station that differs everyday. I usually go to the grill station because I know the food selection usually contains safe food.
Why? Because previously in the year, I spoke up. I talked with the head chef in the dining hall and got to understand what food they use and how they prepare their meals. I worked hard to make sure the food I was eating was safe. And, if I have any questions at all, I can go directly to the head chef and ask!
That’s very different than ordering at a restaurant. At a restaurant, especially the ones you’ve never been to before, there’s a high amount of risk on dishes you’ve never eaten before. “Good judgement” says that I need to ask about their food preparation practices for my safety every time. And even if I go back to the same restaurant time and time again, I still speak up.
“Good judgement” is simply following this creed:
Safety is your first priority, so always prioritize your safety. Safety is maximized when there is little to no chance of the food actually containing your allergens and little to no chance of cross contact issues in the food.
Really, there’s not much more to it. You have to learn how safe you feel at restaurants and your parents and doctors can help with that. You probably shouldn’t eat french fries that are cooked in the same oil as their fried shrimp; but, if your chicken is prepared separately from the salmon, you’re far more likely to be safe (if you have shellfish or fish allergies, for example).
There is a lot more personal responsibility in college, from school to friends to sleep. You get to add in managing food allergies into that mix.
I personally know how…intimidating it can feel. I was in a new city, in a new room, with new friends, taking new classes at a new school, and I had to figure out what the heck I was going to eat! But my Mom and Dad helped me from a very young age to understand how to speak up, how to manage risk with good judgement, and how to maximize my safety. That’s all self-advocacy is.
You may have a roommate that isn’t accommodating to your peanut allergies, and you’ll have to set those boundaries, especially if he or she is constantly storing open jars of Nutella in the room fridge. Like, that’s just blatant disrespect. Your safety comes first and never convince yourself otherwise.
I haven’t had an allergic reaction since age 10 (to fish on a camping trip when I really had no idea I was allergic to fish). You should never accept the “reality” that you may have an allergic reaction. If you’re having allergic reactions, minor or major, you may need to work on strengthening that “good judgement” muscle. If you’re constantly in situations where you don’t feel safe, you may need to evaluate how well you speak up about your needs.
Do I go to restaurants where they serve seafood? Obviously, yeah. Do I allow my friends to order seafood? Yeah, nearly all of the time. Do I personally order seafood? Obviously not. Do I go to college parties? Not really. Do I deal with drunk friends? Yes, of course, it’s college. Do I eat out with friends? Absolutely! Do I usually have influence over which restaurant we go to? Yes. And so forth. Those are the boundaries that I have set, through good judgement, as acceptable for my safety. You need to figure out yours.
Self-advocacy assures you are kept safe. Really, college is just like any other area in life where you deal with food allergies. Instead of talking to an airline’s customer service about their peanut policy, you talk with the university’s Disability Services Office, or their Housing department. Instead of training your teacher at a 504 Plan meeting, you train your friends. And so on.
College is such an exciting time. It’s merely one part in a big journey through life and food allergies are simply one small part of that adventure.
You are always welcome to ask me any questions or voice any concerns you have to me. Send me an e-mail at email@example.com!
I’m writing this sitting in Copenhagen, Denmark after traveling for 30 days through 11 cities in 5 countries. I started in Reykjavik, Iceland and ended in Athens, Greece and visited nearly everywhere in between.
Needless to say, I’m a bit tired.
This past month was fantastic. I cannot even begin to explain how much impact this last month has had upon me. I was a bit skeptical when everyone said “travel will change you in unimaginable ways.” Well, I can say with certainty, it does.
This past month has also re-affirmed a sincerely held belief: having food allergies doesn’t limit you from anything. After ordering food in dozens of restaurants across Spain & France, eating gelato from the best shops in Italy, and having authentic Greek food in central Athens, I know that food allergies are simply another part of traveling.
I traveled with Thomas (my first year roommate and best friend #1) and DK (best friend #2) for the month. They were absolutely hilarious to travel with and we had an absolute blast. Both Thomas and DK knew about my food allergies and were incredibly supportive and accommodating. They had been previously trained in how to use an EpiPen and were aware of cross contact issues. Most of the time, they were more worried about me being safe than I was!
It would take too much space to give a detailed play-by-play of each meal in each city, so I will give a review of where I went and what I saw and then move on to the important takeaways and lessons from this amazing travel experience.
Thomas & I flew out on August 1st and did a one-night stopover in Reykjavik, Iceland. It was our first city and it was a wonderful first stop. Even though we only had two full days in the city, we got to experience a very different city (in style and living) than most of Europe. If you have the chance, do a free stopover in Iceland with IcelandAir. They’re an excellent airline! We traveled via regional trains for the remainder of our journey.
We departed in Reykjavik and entered mainland Europe, beginning with Barcelona. We spent three days in Barcelona and got a real taste of what it’s like to live there (hint: most people wake up past noon and stay out late). We got to see La Sagrada Familia, a huge cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudí that is still under construction! It’s world famous. But we also ate at markets, got to see the Mediterranean, and walk around a really great city.
After Barcelona, we left to meet DK in Montpellier, France. With only one night, we only saw the main attractions: a cathedral, a large Arc de Triomphe and attached park, and the great medieval architecture. We got kicked out of our Airbnb (more on that later), so our time was cut a bit short. After Montpellier, we arrived in Marseille, France for two nights. We walked so much in Marseille, but we got see incredible views, churches, and history in France’s 2nd largest city. It was by far my favorite French city. After Marseille, we left for two nights in Nice, France — we mostly slept since we were recovering after Marseille and spent the rest of our day on the world famous beaches. As a note, there were armed French military patrols every 200 meters walking around the streets and along the beach due to their recent terrorist attacks.
After Nice, we arrived in Milan, Italy after a brief 3-hour stopover in Genoa, Italy. We got to see the famous Il Duomo and three other incredibly historical churches, a medieval fortress, a museum, and ate world-famous pizza at Spontini Pizzeria. Our two nights in Milan felt really short but that’s mainly because we walked 12+ miles each day we were there! After Milan, DK went to see his cousin in Cinque Terre, a gorgeous coastal area of Northern Italy near Florence; Thomas and I went to Venice instead. Venice was by far my favorite city from the whole trip: picturesque canals, small shops and churches scattered all over the island, and a ton of history. We spent three nights in Venice.
We met back up with DK in Florence and spent a short three nights in Florence. Florence was the ideal “Tuscan” city: a giant cathedral (the Florence Duomo) surrounded by red tile roofs in a picture-worthy valley. We spent most of our time in art galleries and museums (the Uffizi and the Accademia, where Michaelangelo’s David is held). We could’ve easily spent a week in Florence, partly because we found the best gelato shop in all of Italy!
After Florence, we moved on to Rome. We spent a total of a week in Rome, but stayed in two different areas to add some variety. Our whole group got to see Pope Francis for his Sunday Angelus and now we can claim we have shirts blessed by the Pope! We also got to see all of the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica, plus multiple museums and Roman historical sites. I ventured out to Tivoli, Italy by myself for a half-day in Villa D’Este, a 16th century villa with incredible gravity-operated fountains. After 7 days in Rome, we were definitely exhausted.
But no matter! We hopped on a short plane to Athens, Greece (via Aegean Air, another excellent airline) to conclude our trip. By this point, we were pretty darn tired so we split our days between relaxation and seeing historical sights. Still, we got to see a plethora of Ancient Greek history sites and museums.
Upon reflection, Thomas and I realized we kind of moved “backwards” in history — Iceland was the “newest” country, founded in about 800 CE. And we moved all the way back to the cradle of Western civilization in Athens, Greece, which dates as early as 8,000 BCE. It was an incredible journey through history and through Europe!
I think there were a few moments that definitely top the list of “what the [heck] just happened?”
We got kicked out of our Airbnb in Montpellier. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, but it is fun to say. Our host said we needed to be out of the Airbnb before “12am” — knowing that many Europeans (especially those less fluent in English) could mistake 12am with 12pm, I asked him if he meant 12am or noon. He re-affirmed 12am. As it turned out, he meant 12pm. Most of the French (and elsewhere) use 24h time, so time after 12h is expressed as 13h–23h instead of 1pm to 11pm. It was a simple mess-up, but his cleaning lady came a-knocking at 12pm. Luckily, we were there by accident since DK needed to grab his water bottle! Unfortunately, his cleaning lady didn’t speak any English so we roughly communicated through Google Translate to figure out why she was there and how much time we had to leave (about 1 minute). We hastily packed everything and ran out apologizing (Je suis désolé !). We explored Montpellier with all of our stuff on our backs until our train left for Marseille.
We were in a restaurant in Marseille, France and I decided to have a dessert — creme brulee! It’s a classic French dessert and it’s really a set recipe. However, their creme brulee was served with a side of raspberry sauce and almonds. I asked for them to leave off the almonds on the side. Thomas and DK got a separate dessert — but when they came to serve the desserts, they didn’t get Thomas or DK’s right (they served them the wrong dessert) so I had an “OH BOY” kind of moment, waiting for the creme brulee to come out with nuts on the side. They actually first entirely forgot about my dessert for about 5 minutes once they corrected their previous mistake with Thomas and DK, but they eventually got it out and it was completely safe, no nuts anywhere.
We were at a restaurant in Athens, getting a late lunch. Our waiter was an older Greek man and his English wasn’t great — although, on the whole, Greeks in the service industry seem to know more English than the French or Spanish do. I explained to him that I couldn’t do any sesame, and he smiled and nodded his head and put his hand on my shoulder and said “it’s no problem, all safe.” I wasn’t entirely convinced. But he served food that was completely safe, since I found out from another waiter their bread was made in-house and didn’t contain any sesame. (Whew)
Most Successful Moments
Obviously I had a couple run-ins with danger, but there were far more successes.
Every meal I ate while traveling, which meant about 90 meals were entirely safe at a variety of restaurants in a variety of countries, explained to servers who weren’t usually fluent in English. So, I only had two mix-ups out of 90 — that’s a stellar record.
I ordered a a simple peach tart in Nice — basically baked peaches with a peach sauce. The waiter actually double checked with three cooks about the processing of the peaches before he came back to the table and informed me that the peaches have cross contact issues in their kitchen with nuts they use in other dishes. How incredible!
This restaurant in Venice!
This restaurant in Rome!
Those are some highlights (and I actually just realized while writing this that all of those moments were from Italy). Every waiter in Europe that I’ve explained my food allergies to completely gets it. They don’t ignore it and they double check with the kitchen on my meals. Really, truly good service even with a slight language barrier.
Lessons & Important Takeaways
There was a lot I knew coming into my travels. I planned for months in advance for which cities we were visiting and where we were staying. I double checked airline policies for serving nuts (Iceland Air and Aegean Air are two fantastic airlines). I knew I would have to avoid chocolate at all costs because chocolate is usually made with nuts across Europe, and I would avoid it even if they told me their chocolate wasn’t. I even checked immigration restrictions on medicine and bringing EpiPens® into different countries.
But there’s so much I simply learned by traveling. In no particular order:
Never, ever, ever believe your food allergies are an inconvenience. Thomas and DK were wonderful companions and always supportive in finding restaurants with safe menus. After walking 10 miles in Venice one day, Thomas and I were famished and we found a good looking restaurant, but about 75% of their menu was solely seafood (which Thomas enjoys). I didn’t feel totally comfortable with the place even though I could eat there, but it was Thomas who was the really uncomfortable one since he didn’t want us eating there for my sake — how’s that for great friends! He decisively said “no, let’s find somewhere else.” We did. Never convince yourself or your friends that it’s okay to put yourself in danger, because it’s not.
Always restate your food allergies to the waiter multiple times while ordering. Before I ordered, I would tell them “I have food allergies. All peanuts and nuts, sesame, shellfish, and fish,” in English. If they looked confused or weren’t totally fluent in English, I’d pull out my phone and show them the list in whatever language they spoke. Then I’d order my food. Then I’d restate my food allergies. By that point, the waiter or waitress was like “yes, yes I got it,” which made me feel even safer!
Carry all your important documentation in one area and have digital copies available. I feel as if this is a good travel tip in general, but especially for those of us with food allergies. I had a bright red folder in my daypack (that I carried on to flights as well) that contained copies of doctor’s letters for immigration that allow me to carry my medicine, my passport, all of my credit cards and ID cards including health insurance, a copy of proof of health insurance, and a copy of bank statements (really for my travels in the UK). I had all of these documents also saved digitally so I could print them out if necessary. I also had printed verifications of everywhere we were going to stay (AirBnB’s and Hostels) along with flight confirmation information. This way, I had any and all information I needed at anytime I needed it on my person. In case it was stolen, I also had digital copies I could print out.
If you want control over your meals, use AirBnB. I should become some sort of brand rep for their company because I absolutely adore AirBnB. Basically, you can “rent” out another person’s apartment or a room in their apartment for as long as you would like. There are hundreds of options in each city. We stayed with top-reviewed places and top-reviewed hosts (called SuperHosts) so we assured our experience would be a good one. Through AirBnB, we stayed in an apartment in a 13th century monastery, a 5th floor apartment with a grand view of Marseille, a first floor apartment with a river view in Florence, a gorgeous apartment near the Vatican, and a top-floor apartment with a rooftop view of Rome. Oh and a spacious apartment in Athens that had a view of the Olympian Temple of Zeus. And for the most part, we didn’t spend more than $30 or $40 per person, per night. When shared between three people, it becomes really quite cheap to travel via AirBnB. Since you have access to a kitchen, you can cook or at least have a place to store food you can eat at anytime. We stayed in our fair share of hostels, but they’re simply not as flexible or easy to use for food.
Bring an emergency supply of snacks. This should be a small bag of some kind of emergency food. I always bring NutriGrain bars, and those staved off hunger on a couple of train rides. You might end up in a situation where you can’t eat safely or you need to catch a train instead of eating due to bad planning (did that one…). It’s always good to have a guaranteed safe option available.
Please always carry your epinephrine autoinjectors. That’s a no brainer.
I could probably write pages and pages more — and I just might eventually! For now, those are the top takeaways.
After Greece, Thomas and DK left for Zurich, Switzerland to meet DK’s family. They’ll be finally settling down in Salzburg, Austria for their study abroad program in the next couple of days. I left for Copenhagen, Denmark where I am now completing a research project on small business performance and growth.
International travel can seem scary, I totally get that. I had a lot of fears about communicating with different people in different languages and still feel that the food served would be “safe.” But, it is entirely possible. You have to plan ahead, of course, but once you’re there, you have to figure it out somehow. If you explain you have food allergies, you may be surprised at how many people are willing to help and make sure the food is going to be safe and delicious. You can always figure a way to make it work!
Simply: Food allergies do not prevent you from doing anything in life, unless you let them.
Questions about travel or study abroad programs? Send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be happy to answer any and all questions you have about my travels or about planning for yours!
Many of you have read my son, Morgan’s, recent posts about studying abroad with food allergies. If you’ve missed them, please read them on his Morgan’s New Corner blog here and here. He wrote extensively about the details of what it took for him to be able to study abroad safely. He will be traveling throughout Iceland, Spain, France, Italy & Greece in August; doing research in Copenhagen, Denmark in September, and studying at the University of Lancaster in Britain from October through December 18.
As a parent, it was difficult to wrap my head around him studying abroad when he first brought up the subject prior to leaving for college. At the University of Denver, approximately 70% of the students study abroad – generally in their junior year. There were seminars about studying abroad for parents to attend during the Parent portion of the Freshman Orientation Week. I sat through those discussions and wondered how we, my husband and I, would ever be able to support this endeavor! Yet we both agreed that this was an opportunity not to be missed, if it was possible. It was going to take plenty of preparation, but the good news was – Morgan would be doing that instead of me!!
Over the past 2 years of college, Morgan has shown more maturity in being able to handle the details of his medical care. He has also become far more organized, and took on looking into the schools abroad that could accommodate his needs for safe food. Since middle school, he has been responsible for ALWAYS carrying his EpiPen 2-Pak, which he does ALWAYS. He knows how to recognize an allergic reaction in himself, and how to teach others. He can also teach others how to administer his EpiPen. He has vast experience with traveling by himself, and in groups, and keeping himself safe.
Since he doesn’t speak a second language, we knew that he would need to have an English speaking country for his study abroad, and thankfully he agreed with that wholeheartedly. I remember speaking with a father at a Parent’s Weekend at DU who was telling me that his son went to Australia for study abroad and loved it. He then mentioned that his son has a peanut allergy. I commented that it was probably easier to manage his peanut allergy in an English speaking country. The Dad said that he’d never thought of that! For some parents of children with food allergies, there is a different level of vigilance than what we’ve practiced.
We have chosen the vigilant lifestyle, based upon Morgan’s past allergic reactions. I can’t imagine being cavalier about where Morgan chose to study. It was also important, however, that Morgan take responsibility for ALL parts of the study abroad. This included whether the college/university had classes that would fit into his major; whether he could find a living arrangement that would keep him safe; and which airline he would choose to fly to his various destinations.
There are so many pieces of this puzzle to put together, and we allowed him to be the Project Manager of this adventure. He learned about an app called Trello that he was using with another project at school. This became our go-to place for listing all the details of what needed to be done prior to his departure. He would list various items that he knew he needed to provide to get into the country; and I listed other items important to me. Together we made it happen, and I also had to quit micro-detailing him to death. At 20 years old, he had shown how responsible he was, and I needed to trust that whatever happens abroad is for his highest and best good.
Yesterday, we took him to Denver International Airport. I couldn’t believe that we were at the launch point! The years of teaching him how to be safe with food allergies were going to get the biggest test yet. He has a written plan for the cities he will be visiting detailing where he’s staying, and he’s checked out various markets and restaurants. He’s going to purchase a SIM card in each of the countries he’s visiting to be able to communicate with us and with others. We will be communicating through Skype while he is abroad, however he told me to expect a weekly update – not daily! He will provide a map “touch point” every time he enters into a new city while traveling during August. This will allow us to know he has safely arrived. He also provided us with his detailed itinerary for the month of August, so we know where he’s planning on being. He’s traveling with two DU friends – one of whom flew with him. The other one, they will meet in France.
It’s not easy to allow our children to grow up and participate in college life! I cried many a tear yesterday, and hugged him three different times before he got on the escalator to head to TSA. I’m so excited for this adventure for him. And I’ve already counted the days until his return – 139 to go!
It’s amazing how much more food allergy awareness there is in 2016 than there was in 1996 when my son had his first reaction – a contact one at that – to peanuts! Twenty years makes so much difference, yet there is still a long way to go.
Rare is there a preschool that doesn’t have some awareness of food allergies; however, there are so many colleges that need to be educated. Day cares have protocols for children with food allergies, yet employers don’t have any idea what’s coming as our children age and need special accommodations in the workplace!
And don’t get me started on discussing airlines and their needs to serve peanuts, or warm nuts in First Class! We still have a long way to go to create more awareness of our children’s needs and civil rights.
There have been several key items that have occurred in the last 20 years. The main item was the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act which was passed in 2004 and became law on January 1, 2006. The top 8 food allergens must be labeled in words a child can understand as a result of this law. It is so much easier than it used to be to know if a product is safe.
There is now an abundance of ongoing research occurring to find a cure for food allergies. When my son was little, there was nothing, and very little funding for research. The only “cure” was complete avoidance of the offending food.
I’m convinced that in the next 20 years, there will no doubt be a cure. In the meantime, living with food allergies is not as lonely as it used to be – sadly, there are so many more children being diagnosed each day. And the Internet has definitely made the food allergy world bond and be able to reach out to more families.
AllergicChild has been online since January 2000. We’ve been sharing our family’s experience of traveling, sending our son to school, and basically every aspect of our lives as it relates to food allergies. My son, Morgan, has detailed his life since he was 9 years old for the AllergicChild audience.
In honor of this year’s Food Allergy Awareness Week, my son Morgan created a new website and blog, Morgan’s New Corner. I’ve been hoping that he would create something like this for years! What better way to create food allergy awareness than to have personal experience shared by someone “living the dream”! (For those of you who have heard Curtis Zimmerman at FAAN and FAACT Teen conferences, you will understand this reference!)
What he has put together is even more wonderful than what I could have imagined. It’s one thing to be a parent of a child with food allergies; it’s an entirely different experience to be the child, the preteen/teenager, and now the college student managing this vigilant lifestyle.
Morgan has shared his personal experience about preparing for trips alone and with school groups, about college and what it took to find the right school. He also shares all his writing from the age of 9 through the present, and how food allergies have affected his life. I encourage you to visit his website. You will see that your child has an amazing future ahead!
Thank you for all your support and encouragement through the years. One day, when we have a cure, we won’t need Food Allergy Awareness Week. In the meantime, let’s continue to trudge this road and support one another!
Tip #1: Carry your auto-injector (please do this anyway)
Make sure you carry your auto-injector with you all the time. Certainly, you should be doing this anyway whether or not you’re on a date. Make sure you have them on your person: they should be within your arms length whether you carry them on your person or in a bag. A purse could suffice as long as you don’t leave your purse lying around anywhere. Your auto-injector is the single most important thing you need to have just in case something happens (we’ll hope nothing does).
Tip #2: Tell Your Date… Really.
You can’t assure your safety without telling your date about your food allergies. It doesn’t have to be awkward explaining it to them! It could go something like this:
“Hey, so I didn’t know if you knew, but I’m actually really allergic to [x]. I could get really sick – even die – if I eat any of food that has it.” You don’t have to explain that kissing could create a problem (yet) unless they ask. Make sure you clearly list out your allergens and make sure your date knows that you could get really sick and/or die if you make contact with those food allergies like kissing someone. When you make the problem sound serious, your date will take it seriously.
If you’re on a dinner date, then tell them about this on the drive over to the restaurant. Lock the doors so they can’t escape! Just kidding. But really, tell them about your food allergies. If you can choose a place for dinner, make sure you choose a place with lots of safe options for both of you (i.e. Red Lobster may not be the best choice if you have a seafood allergy). If you’re meeting at the restaurant, make sure to tell your date before he or she orders.
Tip #3: Kindly make your date order a safe dish.
Usually, it works really well to immediately follow the “I’m allergic to [x]” with “I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t order anything I am allergic to.” If you’re on a date with someone, hopefully they’ll be super accommodating to your food allergies. If they’re not, you probably shouldn’t date them. Keep an eye and ear open to make sure the food they order is safe.
Tip #4: When explaining food allergies and cross contact issues to the server, make sure to say “we” and not “me.”
As is good practice, you should tell the waiter or waitress about your food allergies when you order food at a restaurant. However, make sure you say “We can’t have any of these foods so if you could mark it on both of our orders.” Whether or not your date actually has food allergies is irrelevant. Making sure the food they order is prepared safely as well mitigates problems that could occur later in the night (like a kiss). If your date asks, explain it like this: “I just wanted to make sure that all of the food on this table was going to be safe.” You don’t have to explain your desire to kiss them to get it past them. They’ll be understanding anyway.
Tip #5: Tell Your Date (Yes, Really, Again).
Have you not told them? Sheesh. You need to tell your date! You must tell them. They can’t keep you safe – heck, you can’t keep you safe – if you don’t tell them about your food allergies! They could have had a plan to take you to Texas Roadhouse but they wouldn’t know that was a bad idea if you didn’t tell them about your peanut allergy (for example).
Tip #6: Making the move: don’t make it too awkward
So it’s time for the kiss. Maybe it’s the end of the first date. Maybe it’s the end of the second. Whenever this time comes, you don’t need to make it awkward. The reason I prefer dinner dates is because I can assure that the hours before a kiss is possible contain safe food. That mitigates problems from the kiss. Hopefully (although this is not guaranteed), they are also hygienic and they brushed their teeth before they went on the date with you. You can’t assure this happens but dinner dates lengthen the time between consuming unsafe food and the ensuing teeth brushing with a potential kiss.
However, if you’re simply seeing them at night after sports practice (for example), you should ask them what they had that day. You wouldn’t want to be kissing them if they just ate a PB&J sandwich with their team for dinner and you’re allergic to peanuts. That’s not a good combination. You need to set that boundary and say, before you kiss them: “Did you eat anything that I’m allergic to today?” It can help if you list off those allergens if they’re unsure. If they just wave it off and say “no, no, I didn’t,” pressure them! Make them confirm. You don’t need to make them list off every item from every meal of the day (unless if you want to), but you do need to make sure they haven’t eaten anything unsafe in the past few hours. I know that this doesn’t keep the “moment” intact, but your life and safety is far more important than kissing someone (even if they are superbly attractive).
If you don’t feel comfortable kissing someone after a dinner date (even if they ate safe food) because you don’t know what they ate earlier in the day, it is completely okay to ask them what they ate throughout the day. It doesn’t have to be an extensive list, but frame it as if you’re concerned and you really want to kiss them but you just want to be safe. Or, you can simply postpone the kiss for another night (even if that isn’t the best solution, it is the one that keeps you safe).
Tip #7: Over for dinner? Come early or be the chef!
Your date has invited you over for dinner – oh no! Even if you’ve told them about your food allergies, you can’t guarantee that they’ll be as good as you reading labels and preparing safe food. You can either come early and read all the labels (explaining to your date that you just want to make sure all the food is safe). Even if your date assures you that all the food is safe, read the labels anyway. Make some excuse about being weird and paranoid and that you just want to make sure the food is safe, even though you trust that they have read it. Also, if you want to be extra safe, make sure they clean pots and pans before they start making dinner. You never know what has been cooked in those pans previously. Personal note: I’ve cooked a balsamic sauce in a pot before and even after three thorough cleanings, I still get a hint of balsamic in anything I cook in that pan. Needless to say, some food can stick around in the pans (especially if they’re poor quality pans like mine are).
Your other option is to be the chef! If your date invites you over for dinner and you don’t/can’t come early, insist on cooking. That way, you can bring all the safe ingredients and tools to make safe food. You can even invite them over to your place for dinner.
Tip #8: Meeting the parents: Go to a safe restaurant or be the chef!
Your boyfriend/girlfriend is now wanting you to meet their parents. That’s intimidating anyway – there’s no need to make it more complicated, confusing, or stressful with your food allergies. Your date’s parents may not fully understand your food allergies, even if it’s been explained it to them multiple times. That means there is a possibility for mistakes – and that’s something you want to avoid.
You can first invite them to a safe restaurant. If there are safe options available, kindly ask your date to order one of those and again use the “we can’t eat any of my allergens” statement from Tip #3. If you wish, you can also ask your date’s parents to order food that couldn’t cause issues. For example, I do ask for them not to eat shrimp pasta since we’re in such close proximity. I’m not going to be partaking in it, but it makes me feel uncomfortable. I’ve never had a negative reaction to this request since they can forgo one night without their shrimp pasta.
You can also be the chef! Offer to bring your food and pans to their house to cook a family meal. You can also invite them over to your house and cook them a meal. That may be a nice meet-and-greet opportunity as well between your parents and theirs.
Tip #9: Know safe “staple” foods and brands for easy shopping and food.
Eventually, you may find yourself in constant company with your boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s important to know go-to brands of food and restaurants. If they become hungry, you can simply say “how about [x restaurant]?” That way, you always have a safe option in the back of your head. This works great especially when you are with friends of your boyfriend or girlfriend; they can all enjoy good food and you can have safe options.
For long-term relationships, knowing safe brands of food means you can answer their parents’ requests about what food you would like. If you find yourself at a grocery store needing food, you automatically know which brands are safe and which aren’t.
Tip #10: Please train them.
Unfortunately, most people don’t know anything about food allergies or how to administer an epinephrine autoinjector. Train them! If you don’t train them about signs of an allergic reaction or how to administer your auto-injector, they cannot help you in times of emergencies. It doesn’t take long and it’s a very important part of keeping safe.
Bonus Tip #1: Long-term relationship tip: give them a toothbrush and toothpaste to store in their car
This may seem like a weird one, but it’s important. Maybe your boyfriend or girlfriend accidentally ate a KIND bar during a break at work and they’re seeing you later that night. You want to mitigate any possibility of having issues from kissing them later that night, so give them a toothbrush and toothpaste to store in the car.
Obviously, it’s preferred if they don’t eat any of your allergens. That sacrifice may be difficult for some and it’s up to you whether that’s a deal-breaker in the relationship. You must determine the boundaries you are willing to live with. Personally, I would prefer them not to eat anything I’m allergic to (and I voice it clearly) but I’m not super strict about it. I understand that they will be eating nuts every once in a while, but I make sure they are fully aware of the consequences. If you’ve been dating a while, it may be time to have a conversation about whether they’d be willing to give up eating a food you’re allergic to – but that’s all up to you.
Bonus Tip #2: Avoid Alcohol
Let’s ignore the fact that underage drinking is illegal. There are two parts to this.
First, alcohol allows you to do stupid things. It hinders your ability to think straight and you could end up accidentally eating something while you’re drunk that you’re not supposed to because you forgot to read the label. Usually when you’re drunk (in high school and college), you’re surrounded by other drunk people. Those drunk people will most likely be unable to help you if you eat something you’re allergic to because either a) they can’t think straight like you, or more likely b) they don’t know how to administer an autoinjector in the first place.
Second, a lot of alcohol contains food allergens and they’re not required to label it. This quite literally means your first drink could be your last. You could be your diligent ol’ self and promise to only have a sip of something even after reading the labels on the alcohol, but you don’t actually know what it is in it because they aren’t required to put it on the label. For example, Bombay Sapphire contains tree nuts and it appears nowhere on the label.
I know alcohol seems enticing and helps you “fit in” with friends. Most people respect your decision if you say “no” to their offer of a drink; however, if they continue to pressure you into drinking even after you’ve said no, then it is time for you to leave the party and maybe even find a different friend. In this instance, your life is on the line and you need to choose responsibly instead of “fitting in.”
Bonus Tip #3: Enjoy your dating life!
Life is too short to take it too serious. You should always try and keep yourself as safe as possible and I hope the above tips help out with that. Remember: you’re on a date! You’re supposed to have fun with this guy or girl who you like and who you think is really attractive. Don’t let food allergies ever stop you from dating. Be yourself and have fun! It’s a date.
Studying Abroad is a rite of passage at the University of Denver, where I attend college. There are numerous steps for every student to prepare appropriately for being in another country for a school quarter or semester. For me, adding food allergies into the mix, generates even more necessary preparation!
The University of Denver (where I attend college) is #1 in the nation for study abroad participation rates. Nearly 3 in 4 students at DU study abroad, typically during the fall of their junior year. I kid you not, it seems like the entire junior class disappears during the fall and magically reappears in the winter. DU makes it excessively easy to study abroad: they partnered with over 130 universities and study abroad programs around the world in dozens upon dozens of different countries. With a good GPA (3.0+), a student is eligible for the Cherrington Global Scholars (CGS) program. If you’re eligible for CGS, you pay DU the normal tuition and housing costs for a quarter; in return, they pay for tuition and housing at your host university abroad and reimburse visa and flight costs (among a few other things). It really makes studying abroad superbly easy (plus, they have an easily searchable database of available programs!)
I knew this coming into freshman year and I’ve spent a long time looking at the programs available. I knew a few things:
Unless I magically became fluent in another language, I would need to go to an English-speaking country. The language barrier present in trying to explain my food allergies to chefs or other people in a country that does not predominantly speak English would be a challenge that puts my life at risk. That was unacceptable so I knew I would have to look at an English-speaking country in which to study abroad.
I could not do a homestay program. This is especially true in non-English speaking countries. In a homestay, I would have little to no control over the food served and thus would be putting myself in danger. I knew a homestay would not work.
Most importantly, I would have to find a university or program that had classes that interested me and was in a country that interested me! I wouldn’t want to study abroad in a country that I didn’t like or at a university/program that offered no classes that interested me. That wouldn’t be fun and I want to have fun while studying abroad.
I found a few programs around the world in the UK, Australia, and Ireland that interested me. After narrowing it down, I found an awesome program at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom. It’s about 3 hours away from London (by train) in rural England and it’s ranked as a pretty good university!
Because I love to plan ahead, I knew this was the program I wanted to attend before I even started school my freshman year (last year). It had all of the academic courses that I desired, and the housing was on the university campus with access to a kitchen.
I did a bit more research into the program at Lancaster during the winter & spring of my freshman year and realized that the dormitory system may throw a wrench in my plans. Lancaster is set-up in a college system. Each college has its own dining hall, common areas, and living spaces. The majority of the dorms were set-up in a shared kitchen style, meaning that food would be stored in a shared refrigerator (or two) and everyone would have access to the same pots and pans to cook. That posed a lot of cross-contact issues both in storing and preparing food. I knew that I could probably buy my own pans and pots while I’m there, but I couldn’t mitigate contact between my food and other people’s in the same refrigerator. I made a judgment call and determined I didn’t feel safe with that option.
I found that some colleges have a “private ensuite” option: I have a kitchen and storage and a bed all to myself in my own self-contained suite. This mitigates a lot of the issues that could arise in a shared kitchen facility. I became really excited since I knew that the option was available! I just had to find out if I could secure a “private ensuite” while I study abroad.
I dug into Lancaster’s website and found their disability office contact. I sent an e-mail with my concerns (explaining my food allergies, their severity, the problems with shared kitchen facilities, and the possibility of a private ensuite). I heard back from the office and they said that it was a definite possibility! They remarked that it wasn’t a preferred set-up for a study abroad student simply because it limited my social interactions with other people, but they said my health always trumps those concerns.
I was really excited. I knew that I could study abroad and find safe housing at my host university. I started to research labeling laws for the UK and got some help from the Anaphylaxis Campaign in the UK in identifying the regulations. Since the UK is a member of the European Union (EU), the EU’s regulations apply to all UK manufacturers and producers.
At the University of Denver, the Office of International Education (OIE) supervises all of the study abroad programs. Students get a study abroad advisor depending upon their country and that advisor helps answer any questions regarding studying abroad and helps coordinate all of the application process.
I told my OIE contact person about my food allergies and why homestay/shared kitchens would not work. I wanted to reconfirm through him and his contacts at Lancaster that a private ensuite option would be available for studying abroad. The staff at Lancaster confirmed this! I would need to submit some medical documentation, coordinate with the disability office, and include the request on my study abroad application, but otherwise, everything was a go!
After spending the last few months coordinating with OIE, my academic advisors, and Lancaster University, I decided to add a month of research in Copenhagen Denmark, prior to the start of the school quarter at Lancaster. The research will be within my two majors: economics and public policy.
Denmark is also, technically, an English-speaking country. 86% of Danes are fluent English speakers, meaning that I won’t have problems assuring my safety in urban areas. I’m still securing a lot of the details around my research since it is a relatively new adventure! I know I’ll be staying in a no-pet and no-smoking Airbnb in Copenhagen for the month, with access to a fully-furnished kitchen. This makes it really easy to make sure I’m safe: I buy all of my own food and cook it myself! I’m still researching labeling laws in Denmark, but given that they are members of the EU as well, I’m sure their regulations are very similar to the UK’s.
I’m so excited to have this opportunity to study abroad, and to do so with my food allergies handled in a way that makes me feel safe!
Now, it’s time for Morgan to move off-campus for his Junior and Senior year. He will be studying abroad for the Fall 2016 quarter in the UK at the University of Lancaster; however, waiting until he returns in December to find a place to live will likely yield him no safe place! Therefore, time is of the essence now, 9 months in advance, to secure housing.
We have lived in our family home for over 22 years. We have ensured that the home is allergy-safe for Morgan. We put in tile floors years ago, and added Air Conditioning, which many people do not have in Colorado. We have HEPA filters on the furnace, and have no pets. Basically, our home is and has been a safe haven for Morgan, and it was the only home he lived in prior to going to college.
I hear from many parents who assume that living off-campus in an apartment is easier for food allergic students than living on campus in a dormitory. That may be true in some cities; however, Denver is seeing a population explosion and rentals are scarce and over-priced. For Morgan, living in a dorm and eating in the cafeteria has worked extremely well, especially since DU Dining Services are well-versed on food allergies. And, on-campus housing is cheaper than any off-campus apartment or shared home.
Food allergies are just one part of the equation for Morgan. He also has mild asthma and pet allergies. Therefore, he has to find a place to live that has central air conditioning, no pets, no smoking, with roommates willing to not eat his allergens, AND come in at a price that’s below his scholarship stipend! That is a difficult combination!
He immediately was able to find the roommates he wanted to live with, and had a discussion about his food allergies to ensure they were okay with his needs. With that hurdle jumped, the real issue began – Denver is big on dogs. And many college students have pets, so about 85% of the available houses and apartments allow for pets in the DU neighborhood. Of the 15% remaining, most do not have air conditioning! That narrowed his selection of available apartments to about 3 buildings.
Thankfully, he started early and has just signed a lease with three other young men to live in a 4-bedroom apartment that has AC, no pets, and no smoking. These transitions are difficult for this Mama to stomach; however, I know that Morgan is making wise decisions of who to live with, and I’m hopeful that this apartment lives up to its promises!
Lauren is now in college at the University of Northern Colorado, and I wanted to interview her, and her mother Melissa, about her experience through the rest of high school. Also, I wanted to see how she is managing in college without having a robot!
Lauren – you were 14 years old when we last interviewed you. How was the rest of high school for you with your dairy allergy? Did you continue to have a robot go to school for you?
The rest of high school was amazing! After using the V-go, my friend had told me about a charter school that was able to accommodate my food allergy. They even banned pizza, and implemented a desk cleaning before each class at the school for me! Everyone was so accepting of my allergy. I still stayed away from food areas and washed my hands often. Except for the occasional hives from dairy contamination, I had no severe reactions while I attended.
Were there any more instances of anaphylaxis during your years in high school?
Not while I was actually at the high school, but during the summer of my junior year I had a really bad one at a women’s retreat that I went to with my mom. There was a miscommunication with the staff that tried accommodating me in terms of food at the camp. I had accidentally eaten a piece of bread with dairy in it. It was a very scary ordeal, considering we were in the mountains & the response time up there is a little longer. I was scared and not sure what was going to happen but after 5 hours, 3 Epipens, 14 times trying to find a place for an IV, 2 Inter muscular injections, a breathing treatment, and lots of prayers the doctors stabilized me! Now I am much more careful and I always make sure my food is extra safe!
How did you prepare for going to college at the University of Northern Colorado?
I set up an appointment to meet with disability services at my school. They were absolutely phenomenal with working with us to make UNC a safe place for me to go. They got me an on campus house where I have a separate, safe apartment. I also took the time to talk to my professors about my allergy.
What made you choose UNC?
I chose UNC because I wanted to go away to college but I knew I really needed to be close to home in case I had a reaction. UNC was a perfect choice because it was only an hour away from my parent’s house. Additionally it had the major I was interested in. Plus, it’s awesome to see family and not have to cook your own food on the weekends!
What is your current living situation at school? How do you ensure that you don’t get near dairy?
I am in a house with a self-contained apartment on campus, I have other girls who live in the same house with me but they are on a totally different side. When I first moved in, I made them all aware of my anaphylaxis, and the severity of it. They are awesome and completely understand the seriousness of my allergy. Whenever I want to hangout in the main house, they make sure to not cook using dairy and they clean the house for me! Two of the girls are from Colorado and two are from Germany, and all have been so supportive and amazing to me, and they are actually some of my best friends now.
What are you planning on majoring in academically?
I am studying Audiology and Speech pathology and I love it! It’ll definitely be awesome to help people with hearing and balance issues one day as an Audiologist.
Have you been able to have a summer job? If so, what “food threats” have you run into with working?
In the past I have lifeguarded during the summer. It was actually a very good fit for me! I have never had a reaction at the pool, and I carry a protective mask in case I ever have to perform CPR. I also talked to my boss about my situation and I let her know that my safety is just as important as the patrons I am guarding, since in order to keep them safe I have to keep myself safe. During my time guarding, there were food parties but I didn’t have to worry about it because the guests couldn’t bring the food near or in the pool. It was definitely an awesome job!
Melissa – when we last interviewed you, Lauren was participating in Dr. Li’s Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Did this treatment help Lauren at all?
Lauren is still taking the herbs. When we started the herbs we simply wanted her to be able to go inside school or the grocery store without having a severe reaction, since there was a time before the treatment that it became impossible to be inside places where food was being warmed up because her body seemed to be even more hyper sensitive then usual. We think this treatment might have helped, since (unlike before the herbs) she has been able to be inside schools, food establishments and other public places without her throat immediately closing. She has no reaction when we simply walk past a pizza place anymore (where as before she would react)
Still, if the dairy is being cooked close enough, she does still react. But at least we are headed in the right direction.
What accommodations did you and Lauren request for her in college?
We asked for them to find a place for her that would be safe from dairy. This was quite the challenge, since we live in a dairy filled world. They came up with a self-contained apartment on campus. Separate from the rest of the house. She is able to cook for herself & steers clear of any areas where pizza or food is served. This has been enough to keep her safe at school.
It was very difficult for me to pass the baton of “health watch” over to my son when he went to college. How have you been able to do that with Lauren’s severe dairy allergy?
Passing the “health watch” baton over to Lauren has to be one of the scariest experiences that we STILL struggle with daily. The good news is that since she’s been gone, she has proven herself to be a good self advocate in keeping herself safe. She did have two anaphylactic episodes since she’s been away (one could have been avoided with better diligence but the other could not) Lauren was in fact able to treat herself immediately with her epinephrine and called 911 for help. Her fast response is always critical in her outcome, and she is well aware of that, she also knows that her body keeps needing more epinephrine after the first one or two shots wear off. For me the scary part lies with the ambulance, and hospital personnel, who seem unaware sometimes how fast her reactions or biphasic reactions change in the blink of an eye. It’s paralyzing for us to think about “what if’s” So this is when we had to put our trust in Lauren & ask God to take over, so we wouldn’t lock her inside our house and never let her out.
Thank you Melissa & Lauren for inspiring hope in all of us!
My son, Morgan, is currently a sophomore at the University of Denver (DU). DU is a private university in the heart of Denver, with approximately 5000 undergraduate students.The school requires that all students live on campus for two years, which sounded impossible when managing food allergies. Yet we tried to be open minded when we first visited the campus. After touring the school, meeting with the Dining hall chefs and with the Housing office – we determined it was going to be not only safe, but great!
DU has been wonderful with accommodating students with food allergies; however their website doesn’t have very much information about the wonderful things that they do. We found out how great they were back in 2008 when our daughter, Michaela, (who has celiac disease and a mast cell disorder) attended a music camp for two weeks during the summer. The chefs prepared her meals based upon a list of safe brands of foods and menus that we provided prior to the beginning of the camp. Each meal was safely prepared for her, and it convinced us that this was THE school for food allergy students!
I recently spent 90 minutes in a meeting discussing food allergies and how it impacts students at DU with the Vice Chancellor of Campus Life, Dr. Lili Rodriguez, Dining Services Resident District Manager, Ira Simon, and the DU Communications Director, Elise Chester (who has a two year old son with severe peanut allergies!) I wanted to encourage them to provide the details of how amazing they are on their website. The meeting proved to me that they are totally ready to take on the topic of food allergies on campus.
Here’s some of the takeaways from the meeting:
After Morgan chose to attend DU, he emailed Ira Simon to request a meeting to discuss his food needs. Ira set up the meeting to include all the chefs that worked at all the residence halls on campus. That way Morgan would feel safe eating anywhere on campus. I attended this meeting along with Morgan. We were both very impressed with all the knowledge and willingness the chefs had to provide whatever safe food Morgan needed. A personal meeting with all the chefs on campus is a staple for every student with food allergies, and this personal meeting will now also be part of the campus tour for all families who request it so that they can discuss their child’s specific food allergies with the chefs.
All of the chefs have gone through AllerTrain to be trained on handling food properly to ensure no cross contact, and to be able to properly read labels. You won’t see this information currently on the DU Dining Services website, but this is soon going to be included.
What’s also forthcoming is a request for each student with food needs to quarterly (DU is on the Quarter system) meet with the chefs to review any needs not being met and to share compliments and concerns. This will ensure that the chefs maintain the personal relationship they like to have with each student with food allergies.
DU currently lists the ingredients of every food they serve on their Dining Services website and it’s also listed in their cafeteria. They want to expand the ingredient listings to be available on a smartphone App. Better yet, they hope to be able to have a student input their allergy or allergies and be able to view a menu of safe foods for the upcoming week. Morgan already utilizes the website to click on a menu item to see if any of his allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish or shellfish) is listed as an ingredient. Not all kids are accessing the website currently, which is also fine. The chefs enjoy getting to know the students and what food allergies they are managing.
DU currently offers “Simple Servings”, which are meals free of 7 of the top 8 food allergens, in one of their cafeterias. The only food they do serve is fish. Separate equipment, storage areas, utensils and preparation areas minimize the chance of cross contact in the kitchen.
They have a dietitian on staff to discuss individual nutritional needs of every student, and to manage food allergies, intolerances, diabetes, etc.
DU has been wonderful to Morgan and Dining Services basic motto is “We will provide anything you need to be safe.” That is so comforting as a parent! And this will also be expanded upon on the website in the future.
We also discussed how the University can better identify and manage the huge number of incoming students with food allergies. I was thrilled with how open minded everyone was to discuss better ways to manage students with food allergies, and to provide more information about the University’s current policies to incoming families.
The administrators plan to add the question of “Do you have food allergies?” to the housing request form, which is completed by all admitted students. This will allow the Housing department to match students better to ensure safe dorm living with no food allergens in the room. It will also prepare the Resident Advisor (RA) to be trained on EpiPen administration, and to ensure that other students in that area of the dorm are aware of which foods shouldn’t be eaten. Gathering information from students with food allergies months prior to the start of school will allow DU to share the information with professors too, should accommodations be necessary in the classroom environment.
Of course, any accommodations will need to be approved through the Disability Services Office (DSO) which will also be receiving an update to their area of the website to include food allergies as a potential disability. The DSO paperwork is also slated for an update to include food allergies.
The plan is for all campus staff to be trained on the administration of an EpiPen, including RA’s. Colorado passed a law earlier this year allowing for a Good Samaritan to administer an epinephrine autoinjector, and this law extends to college employees.
One of the housing issues that may impact students with environmental allergies or asthma is “comfort animals” that are brought to college to help calm anxiety issues. Some of these animals are furry friends, similar to service animals. Housing has to place students appropriately in zones so that shared ventilation systems do not cause issues for those with allergies and/or asthma. Again, DU is planning on obtaining this information sooner in the process by asking the question on the Housing application about service or comfort animals.
I’m very hopeful that the DU website and housing application paperwork will be updated by February 2016 to include all of this information for students with food allergies and their families. It’s so exciting to watch a university take on food allergies!
I recently traveled to New York – alone – for a conference put on by the Roosevelt Institute. As I’ve mentioned before, Roosevelt is a national organization trying to re-engage young people in the policymaking process. They offer a national training each year to leaders of the Institute from around the nation at Franklin D. Roosevelt’s home in Hyde Park, NY. Since I started my chapter of the Roosevelt Institute at the University of Denver, I was invited to attend!
They offered to cover my flight out (which is great)! I had a great few e-mails with their operations specialist at Roosevelt and then I called and voiced my concerns about which airlines I could fly. Since I’ve really only had good experience with Southwest, I told them that I would prefer to fly with them. However, there was one main problem: I had to be at Grand Central Station in NYC by about 2:45pm on Thursday, August 6th to catch my train to Poughkeepsie, the nearest train stop in upstate New York. Only one flight from Denver would get me to LaGuardia airport at 1:40pm (landing time). I knew that it would be a tight push to get off the plane, get my luggage, and get to Grand Central in an hour.
Instead, I had Roosevelt book a flight the day before. This allowed stress free traveling and some extra time. Since I didn’t book the trip online, I called in to Southwest customer service and explained my peanut allergy so that it would be noted on my reservation.
The next problem was, where would I stay? My Mom and I had a couple discussions about friends and family we knew in NYC and in Poughkeepsie. We looked up a hotel in Poughkeepsie that was relatively cheap. However, we eventually settled on renting through Airbnb.
If you’ve never used Airbnb, it’s wonderful! It is a website where home owners advertise a room or their entire place for you to stay in, like a hotel. Usually, however, you’ll have access to a full kitchen and all the amenities you may not have in a hotel. Plus, they must mark if smoking and/or pets are allowed. By default, they’re not! This makes the stay even better. I found a very awesome room to rent in Poughkeepsie, NY. I submitted my request to room there for the night and had a great conversation with the owner through Airbnb before I went confirming the non-smoking and the no pets! I didn’t get into my food allergies since I knew I could find safe food. She and her boyfriend lived together; they were both lovely and fully accommodating.
Roosevelt arranged housing for the duration of the conference at a nearby motel called the Golden Manor. I was supposed to have a roommate, but he didn’t show up. Instead, I got to have a room to myself! Now that I had my housing arranged, I had to make sure I had my food all in order.
I coordinated again with the operations specialist at Roosevelt for a menu of the food provided at the conference. (I’m allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish and shellfish.) She got back to me and we realized that, in fact, all but one of the meals would be safe! She double checked with the caterers for ingredients and confirmed that all the meals (except one) would be perfectly safe. The lunch on Friday was Chinese, which was not safe for a multitude of reasons. Instead, they bought me a frozen meal that was perfectly safe (it was a burrito bowl and we both triple checked the ingredients) that I ate instead of the Chinese food.
I also brought extra food for myself (a few homemade granola bars and a couple of bagels) just in case a breakfast or a lunch turned out not to be safe. That way, I always had something to eat!
The trip itself went very smoothly. I arrived in NYC at LaGuardia airport, got my luggage, and hailed an Uber. Uber is another great app that allows you to hail a (more or less) private driver – like a taxi, but usually they’re nicer cars and nicer people – that will take you anywhere. The fee for the ride is all conducted through the app and tips are automatically added. It’s really a seamless experience and I had a great Uber driver on the way into New York City.
The driver dropped me off with my luggage at Grand Central. I forgot how many people lived in New York City! Despite the masses, I found my way to a ticket booth, got my ticket, and got on the train to Poughkeepsie. It was about an hour and 45 minutes long. Once I arrived in Poughkeepsie, I walked the short walk to the Airbnb place and arrived home for the evening! Since the owners were out, they left a hidden key outside and let me know via the Airbnb app. Once they arrived back, we chatted for a while before we both went to bed. I had packed food for the trip and I ate along the way.
In the morning, I had a granola bar and some coffee. A light breakfast, admittedly, but I kind of spaced on what I would do for that morning. Even with all of my careful planning, I did overlook it, but I was grateful I had brought extra food. After a while, I said goodbye to my wonderful hosts and walked back to the train station. Roosevelt promised to shuttle us from the train station up to Hyde Park, where FDR’s home is.
The conference was absolutely amazing. We got a tour of FDR’s home and presidential library (both of which were great!). We also did some great trainings for leadership, strategic planning, policy making, coalition building, and even PR techniques. The food went absolutely perfectly throughout the entire weekend and the staff were so wonderful! Every time I went to get food, the staff was double checking with me about the ingredients of the food and what I could eat. It was just wonderful.
One night, a huge group of us walked 15 minutes up the road to a nearby diner. Just like any restaurant I go to in a foreign place, I played it safe and got some French toast. I double checked with the waiter and he double checked with the chef; everything went great. It was really tasty French toast, too!
After the conference was over, I took a mid-morning train back to NYC from Poughkeepsie on Sunday, August 9th. Even though I had a small suitcase with me, I decided I wanted to look around NYC a little bit, so I ventured my way onto the metro and went down to the World Trade Center. The memorial was absolutely gorgeous and the new One World Trade Center is great! I grabbed Panera for lunch before going to the airport via Uber.
My safety for the entire trip was assured by planning ahead and making sure everything I was going to eat was safe. I just communicated my concerns and I made sure all of it would work! Overall, it was an amazing experience.
Last Friday, I was in Denver meeting with a bunch of non-profits and elected officials for my most recent project: the University of Denver Roosevelt Institute. I’ve made mention of it before, but to recap, it’s an undergraduate non-partisan think tank. We’re a chapter of a national network of campuses that is attempting to re-engaging young people in politics (a tall order, I know).
Anyway, I had a meeting with the Governor’s Senior Advisor, Jamie van-Leeuwen. Jamie advises the Governor of Colorado on social policy and projects (like homelessness) and has a wealth of experience in urban and economic development. He actually started his own international development foundation called the Global Livingston Institute. Needless to say, he’s very intelligent and was great to meet with him. He’s an absolutely whirlwind of energy – I swear this man never sleeps.
I had scheduled a meeting with him at 12, but he was late. He had to finish up a panel discussion with a number of interns in the Governor’s office. Once he arrived, the conversation went something like this:
Jamie: “Hi, Morgan, right?”
Me: “Hi Jamie, yes. Nice to meet you!”
Jamie: “Nice to meet you to! I’m running late, sorry about that. But I’m actually supposed to be at a lunch – do you mind coming along?”
Me: “Uh, sure! I’d love to.”
Given that this was the only opportunity for me to meet with him in a month (he’s in Africa now working on projects related to his foundation), I figured if I had to talk to him on the way to a lunch (and at the lunch), I would. We basically raced to his car and started a short drive over to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, where the lunch was being held.
As it turns out, a celebration of culture for North & South America (called the Biennial of the Americas) was going on during last week and Jamie served on their board. Since this was the last lunch of the event, he needed to at least make an appearance. While I chatted him up on our car ride over, my mind was already thinking about the food at the event. I figured I would wait until we got there and see what they were serving.
After a few brief hellos with people Jamie knew, we sat down at a table. There was a salad with spiced chicken on it and a vinaigrette already drizzled over it. Accompanying it was a chocolate cupcake with a nut-looking topping. As I sat down, a server came over and began to pour some water. I turned to her and immediately asked if the salad has any of my allergens. She tells me she will ask the chef and departs.
Jamie and his friend we sat down with immediately turn to me and ask if everything is all right. They were very interested in my safety! I briefly explained that I had severe food allergies; they completely got it. The server returned and told me that everything in the salad was 100% okay. They did not prepare anything with shellfish, fish, or sesame. They aren’t a nut-free kitchen but the salad did not contain nuts. I felt very comfortable with that answer and began to dive into the salad.
While the lunch was going on, there was a really great panel between the Mayors of Denver and Calgary, and a former Mayor of Bogota. They were talking about the importance of local community change. I always think about how important it is for parents of food allergic children to work with their schools and the school board on making sure food allergic children are safe in their schools. That’s a great example of what the Mayors were talking about.
Without even asking, the server later returned and said the cupcake was topped with pumpkin seeds and not nuts, but cautioned me again that they weren’t a nut-free kitchen. I thanked her. As a general rule, I always pass on dessert simply because most desserts have some sort of cross contact issue with nuts, whether or not the topping is pumpkin seeds.
Overall it was a great lunch and Jamie was awesome to talk to. I certainly wasn’t expecting to go to lunch, but everything turned out just fine! I always make sure to ask about the food served, especially at big galas. Who knows what’s in the food!
I cannot believe I have finished my first year of college at the University of Denver (DU). It is CRAZY!
The main event in Spring Quarter was flying out to Los Angeles to attend a conference at the University of Southern California. I founded a chapter of the Roosevelt Institute at DU. Roosevelt is a non-partisan, non-profit, undergraduate think tank (how’s that for a mouthful) that seeks to empower young people in political change ranging from K-12 reform to international development, economic justice to public health issues (like food allergies!). The Western Region held an annual conference at USC that I was invited to since I had recently started up the chapter at DU. They were very understanding of my food allergies and expressed an interest in accommodating them.
Everything didn’t work out how I had planned. I had initially understood sandwiches were going to served for the mid-conference lunch but that was soon changed to Indian food. Needless to say, I was at a loss as to how to work around Indian food. I decided to bring my own bagels and snacks in my suitcase for a safe alternative for food. Thankfully, the breakfast they provided was safe. I knew I had to work around it since it was a last minute change, and I didn’t throw up a fuss. Since I could bring my own food (or heck, even order Jimmy John’s to deliver once I was there), it was not a problem.
For dinner, I ate at In-n-Out Burger. I’ve had In-N-Out before on a trip my senior year and I knew it was safe. I double checked once I was there and they assured me nothing contained sesame. It was absolutely delicious!
Just to reinforce something, this was the first time I had flown alone – no friends, no family, nobody with me besides, well, me! It was a big leap forward. However, I flew Southwest Airlines so I knew no problems would arise. You can indicate (like I did) a “peanut dust allergy” when ordering tickets and get two things: a preboard slip and a PDA slip. Preboarding allowed me to enter first and clean off my seat from any previous flight to prevent contact with allergens. The PDA slip I gave to the flight attendant and because of it, they do not serve peanuts on the flight. Overall, the conference was a safe and successful trip!
I have to say: the reason my first year at college was successful was because of my roommate, Thomas.
Thomas comes from the humble little town of Buena Vista, CO and he is one of the best people I know. He wouldn’t eat my allergens in the dorm room, he’d wash his hands if necessary, be considerate of the restaurants we’re eating at, watch out for my health, and simply would be a good guy. Thomas was truly an amazing roommate. We were randomly assigned through the housing system and I have to say I was very fortunate to be assigned to room with him. I can’t offer enough praise for having such an awesome guy.
I trained Thomas about allergic reactions and what symptoms to look for, and how to administer my EpiPen. He’d even read labels on things! I hope every food allergic child has such an awesome experience.
Certainly, Thomas was aware of my food allergies because I told him – an essential step. When your food allergic child(ren) go to college, tell them this: do not keep them hidden from the person/people you’re living with! I set out the standards of asking him not to eat things I was allergic to in the room and everything worked out amazingly.
To celebrate the end of the quarter, I went and saw Wicked, the famous Broadway musical. I have seen it before and I absolutely love the play. Very catchy show tunes – they’re still stuck in my head almost a week later!
The program at DU that helped sponsor this also paid for a pre-show dinner at a local French restaurant called Bistro Vendome. They offered a choice of two appetizers, four entree dishes, and two desserts since we had such a big group (over 30 people!). I told the waitress about my food allergies when I ordered the dishes I wanted and told her also about cross contact issues. She was very nice and helpful and triple checked all the dishes with the chef to make sure they were safe! It was a wonderful and delicious (and free!) dinner.
On Campus Food
The last quick note I’d like to make is that I still had no issue with the food on campus. The local dining hall actually had a change in staff so there was a new head chef! I made sure to introduce myself but since all the food has ingredients clearly labeled on television screens, I knew there wouldn’t be an issue.
The second quarter of the year has been fantastic!
Trip to Buena Vista, Colorado
About three weeks into Winter Quarter, my roommate (Thomas), two friends (Bryce & Kieran), and I decided to go down to Thomas’ house in Buena Vista for the weekend. We just wanted a weekend away from college and to be able to relax; what a wonderful time it was! I drove us down Friday evening and we stopped by Beau Jo’s pizza, a famous Colorado-based restaurant. I had absolutely no issues with their pizza and I did double check with the waiter and the chef if it was. We arrived late Friday night at Thomas’ house.
The entire weekend (Friday through Monday morning) was mainly comprised of lounging around and watching movies, but Bryce & I did utilize the kitchen a lot. She and I made breakfast both days and she was very mindful of my allergies. We didn’t make anything I couldn’t eat and, despite her being a vegetarian, the majority of her nut-filled snacks were eaten on the road and she made sure to wash her hands afterward.
Thomas has a dog, Lucy; however, I had absolutely no issues during that weekend with Lucy! It was a huge improvement from a few years ago before I got allergy shots. I didn’t have any tightness in my chest or coughing and I definitely didn’t have an allergic reaction.
We drove down to Salida, CO on Saturday and hung around for a few hours meandering through the streets after having lunch at a local restaurant. The restaurant was very accommodating. The cooks typically pre-prepare their meat at the beginning of the day; because of this, the waitress was concerned that many of the meats could have cross-contaminated with fish and shellfish. When this concern was expressed to the chefs, they made an entire new section of meat just for me so I could have a safe meal! (I was having spicy chicken quesadillas)
On Sunday, Bryce and I coordinated the final dinner, but everyone helped out making an Italian feast comprised of garlic bread, olive oil asparagus, brown butter pasta, and a safe dessert of creme brulee (which I realize is not Italian). The group shopped together and I made sure everything was safe.
On our way back to Denver, we stopped by my parent’s house in Colorado Springs and grabbed lunch, which is always safe!
Winter Quarter Activities
This quarter has been quite busy; although I took one less class than I did in the fall, I filled my spare time with lots of activities.
I arranged an internship at the Colorado State Capitol, working for State Representative Pete Lee who represents downtown Colorado Springs. Rep. Lee and I had met at a previous dinner hosted by a mutual friend, and he had mentioned that I could intern for him during the legislative session! Since Colorado’s legislative session runs for only 5 months, it would be a perfect internship during the Winter & Spring quarters.
There isn’t any food involved, thankfully. The only food in Rep. Lee’s office is in a shared refrigerator, and it is composed of string cheese and Frappucinos. Since I typically intern in the mid-afternoon, I usually don’t bring food and I leave before I need to eat dinner. Even if there was an issue, I know the staff in the office would be superbly accommodating.
I’m also actively following HB 15-1232 in the CO State Legislature. The bill allows organizations other than schools to acquire and stock epinephrine auto-injectors. A food allergic child who is involved with such an organization must get a doctor to sign-off on a prescription allowing the stock epinephrine. It also requires those organizations to train its employees on the use of an epinephrine auto-injector. It’s exciting! It got through the House Health & Human Services committee and is now in House Appropriations for amendment-related information. It’ll be interesting to see if it passes or not!
Near the end of the quarter, I also helped out at the Boettcher Foundation’s annual Finalist interviews. The Boettcher Foundation is a Colorado-based non-profit that awards full-ride scholarships at any Colorado university to a select group of students who show strength in academics, leadership, service, and character. I was fortunate enough to be awarded a Boettcher Scholarship last year and I decided to volunteer my time this year!
The Foundation interviews 100 Finalists and must select 40 who receive the scholarship. Needless to say, it’s a rather stressful time for all of the Finalists. I volunteered to be a helper in the waiting area to calm down the nerves and just talk with all of the Finalists as they await to be interviewed.
I worked for almost 5 hours with all of the Finalists, from a little before noon until about 4:30. The Foundation provided lunch to all of the volunteers. The week before, I e-mailed the coordinator of the day and I asked her what food was going to be served. Stephanie, the coordinator, is already aware of my food allergies and is absolutely wonderful! The catering company made an entirely separate lunch that was safe for me and contained all kinds of safe food, like a salad, chips, and a sandwich with safe bread. Stephanie let me know this was happening beforehand and the moment I walked in the door she told me exactly where to find my lunch.
Food at the University of Denver
Winter Quarter was a host to a couple of different events.
To start off, the daily meals have been absolutely wonderful and stress-free. The dining halls always have safe options for breakfast and lunch and I can always find something tasty, somewhat healthy, and safe to eat. The typical breakfast includes fruit, hashbrowns, and sausage (with pancakes somedays).
There are a few exceptions to this. One night, it was Chinese New Year and the dining hall did decide to get a themed dinner going! Unfortunately, all the dishes either contained or cross-contaminated with dishes that contained one of my allergies (nuts and shellfish were the typical ingredients). I walked a minute north on campus to the other dining hall that provides a food court style of serving. They have an entirely safe Mexican option that is reminiscent of Chipotle. I got a safe quesadilla for that night and everything was good. I don’t know if I felt left out, but it certainly was unfortunate that I couldn’t eat with my friends for that night simply because of the options available.
Thankfully, DU is amazing in all other aspects. They have the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management that runs all of their social events, especially the dinners. For the entire year (there was an opening dinner with the Chancellor at the beginning of the year and a couple of interspersed events I got into that also provided dinner), they have been absolutely accommodating. When I RSVP for the event, I include information about my food allergies and I ask what they can do about it. Every time, they respond that “everything is handled!” and guaranteed, it is. For example, they handmade a salad for me so that it didn’t contain nuts (like the rest of them did).
Our Chancellor has office hours once a month and last month I stopped by to introduce myself and ask a couple of questions. Before I left, I mentioned to her about how great DU is with food allergies. She agreed! She comes from two east coast private universities and they did not accommodate food allergies well.
I’m off to another 10 weeks of school! Hopefully, nothing too exciting happens – food wise!
Ever since my son, Morgan, was a baby I’ve been obsessed about his health. I have a daughter five years older than Morgan, whose health I’ve also been concerned about at times, but never to the level of obsession that I’ve felt with Morgan. What is it about his health that creates these obsessive thoughts and behavior patterns in me?
If I analyze it (which I’m prone to do to try to find some missing tidbit of information that could help him!), I think that when Morgan got Respiratory Synctial Virus at 3 weeks old, I saw how much his health relied upon me ensuring that he got round the clock treatments of Albuterol and that he always had the oxygen canulas in his nose, even while I was breastfeeding him. This went on for 3 weeks, and it started my obsessive fear that if I did something wrong, my son’s health was going to suffer.
Once he was diagnosed with a peanut allergy at 9 months old, the health ante was raised. Now I was responsible for ensuring that he didn’t have any life threatening reactions to peanuts. I got a long list of items from our allergist that I needed to do to ensure that a reaction never occurred – read every label of every food every time he ate it, cook only safe foods in the house, make sure he didn’t touch anything he was allergic to…You get the point! You’ve been there too! If I wasn’t already tending toward obsessive/compulsive behavior, I’d have been put on the path with the doctor’s directions! Adding asthma to the mix in his toddler years once again upped the ante, and then adding more foods to his long list of severe allergies – tree nuts, sesame, fish and shellfish – raised my obsessive behaviors to a fever pitch.
Through the years, I’ve met so many mothers whose own health has deteriorated as they attempt to take care of a child with severe health needs. We parents of children with food allergies seem to suffer the most of any parents I’ve met. I think it’s because so much is riding on our ability to create a safe environment for our children at home, at school, with family and friends, at playdates – the list is endless. And research has shown that my anxiety about any of these issues can play out in my child’s emotional balance. Which means I need to be concerned about all of these life issues, but not anxious, fearful or worried! And that is so difficult.
If you read my son’s most recent blog post about his first quarter of college, you know that even with his excellent grades and heavy workload, he came home after having been sick throughout the previous 10 weeks to be diagnosed with mononucleosis. He was thankfully able to rest during the school break, which was 6 weeks long for him, and begin to get well. When he left to go back to college , he was by no means 100%. He’s still in need of an abundance of sleep, and just not fully energetic. This sets off an obsession of worry for me that he will overdue it, stay up late, volunteer for too many activities, and have another college quarter full of sicknesses. Or maybe he won’t be healthy enough to go to school at all! I’ve practically made myself sick with all my thoughts and scenarios.
I’ve heard men say that it’s a “Mom thing” to worry about our children and their health and safety. But what are we doing to our own health and peace of mind? Is it necessary to worry? Or would concern suffice?
I have an immune disorder – a mast cell proliferation in my gut – that definitely requires that I focus on my health. The ultimate fear for me with Morgan’s food allergies has been that I’ll do something wrong – serve him a food that will cause a fatal severe reaction, or that someone else will – and that has motivated this obsession with perfection in the area of food allergies. After all, our allergist has told us what he needs to be safe! I have all the data to show that I need to be this worried. Yet, me worrying about his health has taken away from my ability to focus on my own.
How can we parents of children with food allergies find a balance of safety without obsessing over our children? If you have an illness that also needs to be managed, how is that possible? I have a few ideas from what has worked for me –
1) I find it helpful to remember that there is a God and it’s not me. I can teach my son to always carry his EpiPen, to train others, to eat safely, and to take care of his health – that’s my footwork as a good parent. Then I get to turn the rest over to God or to whatever benevolent spirit you might believe in.
2) God has no grandchildren. Very similar to #1 above, but this reminds me that I’m not the go-between for everything that goes on in my children’s lives. My children get to have their own lessons in life, many of which have nothing to do with me. It was vitally necessary to teach Morgan how to advocate for himself, because I wasn’t going to be with him always, but it’s up to him to utilize that training now that he’s almost 19 years old!
3) I am responsible for taking care of my own health. As you hear on every airplane flight, “Put your own oxygen mask on first, and then assist your child.” In the book by Dr. Joe Dispenza called “You Are the Placebo”, he states, “You must observe and pay attention to those emotions that you’ve memorized and that you live by on a daily basis, and decide if living by those emotions over and over again is loving to you.” What better way to demonstrate to my children, who both have health issues, how to take care of themselves than for them to watch me on a daily basis take my medicines, watch what I eat, get enough sleep, and turn over those things outside of my purview.
4) I’ve ceased to expect perfection – from my son or from myself. Let’s face it, accidents happen. I’ve purchased foods from the grocery store that had an allergen in them (the box had a ‘may contain’ statement). I certainly didn’t mean to do it, and thankfully only a small reaction occurred. Another time, my son caught the mistake before he ate the food. This was a great learning lesson for everyone.
5) Forgive myself and others. Tying onto #4 above, I’m not going to be perfect, and when I’m not, I can apologize and then work on forgiving myself. Sometimes with other people’s lack of understanding of food allergies, I’ve had to work harder at forgiving them.
6) Practice the Serenity Prayer which is “God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; and the Wisdom to know the difference.” There are a lot of things I can and should do for my son’s health. Worrying about him isn’t about acceptance and it isn’t about courage either. Worrying is wasted energy. I look for what I can do, and do that. Now that he’s in college, I have far fewer things to be courageous to do for Morgan. The most courageous thing is to hold my tongue, and allow him to learn what he needs to learn in life at as young of an age as possible.
7) Talk with someone else. I have friends and mentors who have helped me through the years by listening to me recount situations, obsessions and worries. They listen, and by listening the burden is shared. Suddenly it doesn’t seem as big of a deal as it did when it was rolling around in my head. And many times I find alternative ways to look at the health issue that seemed insurmountable.
8) Stay in the here and now. Many times my obsessions are spawned out of fear of the future. I want to control what’s going to happen, and I want to make sure that my son is always safe. We did everything right to manage food allergies in college, and didn’t know that mono would be the tripping point. This shows me that I just need to do what’s in front of me to do, and the future will unfold as God sees fit.
9) Try to find the humor. If I’m not laughing at myself, I’m sure someone else is! After all, flapping my mother-bird wings is a sight to behold!
So, here’s to good health for all of us parents! Here’s to proper concern, and less obsessive thinking. I, for one, need to remember that daily!
The University of Denver (DU) runs on a quarter system: there are three 10-week quarters during the regular school year plus an optional summer quarter. I went up to school the last day of August for a week-long orientation at DU before classes began and I arrived home the week before Thanksgiving after successfully completing all my finals.
Before arriving at the school, we met with dining services to discuss food options (my mom wrote an entire blog post here about that visit). DU uses Sodexo as their food provider for their three different dining halls, convenience stores, and various cafes around the campus. In the past, I haven’t had extraordinary success with Sodexo; however, at DU, they are simply the best. When we originally visited, the executive chef at the local dining hall – Nelson Hall – had agreed that I could ask him anything about any of the food served, what it contained, and how it was prepared if I didn’t feel safe eating it. Needless to say, he and I have become really good friends. The dining hall has lots of good options for all meals: fruits & veggies are always available and safe flatbread/pizza is available for lunch & dinner. All the chefs are trained by the university on how to use an Epi-Pen as an extra precaution just in case something occurs.
A dining hall, only a little farther north on campus, has a food court-style service: there is a Greek option, an American option, a Mexican option, and an Asian option. The nice thing about this dining hall is that the menu never changes: they always offer the same food no matter when you arrive. More importantly, the Mexican option is 100% safe (after discussions with the executive chef at that dining hall) and the Greek option is safe as long as I don’t eat the pita bread. They also have “to-go” boxes so I can bring the food back to my dorm if I don’t want to eat it there.
Honestly, the food is working out superbly. I typically go grab the Mexican option for lunch in between classes and select one of the safe options at Nelson for breakfast and dinner. I always have friends around when I eat, which is great.
Classes are pretty difficult overall. I only had one 8am class this quarter and there was a surprising lack of food from students in the class. I decided not to tell any of my professors about my food allergies since I didn’t feel it was pertinent to my success as a student. Given that college is very individualistic, the expectation would be for me, and not for the professor, to ask someone not to eat a PB&J next to me. There was never any issue in any of the classrooms related to food. I kept a wary eye out in that 8am class just in case but the only potential “issue” I ever encountered was someone eating a Snickers on the other side of the classroom. I certainly was not worried.
I live on the Pioneer Leadership Program (PLP) floor at DU. PLP is a leadership program at DU that allows a student to obtain a minor in leadership studies. There are a lot of programs like this at different colleges around the nation; however, PLP is unique given that the students of the program live together on a floor in a dorm. Each year, PLP takes 66 new students and these 66 live together on the floor. They’re very driven, responsible, and intelligent students and it’s a blast to live with them! Our Residential Assistants (RAs) are older PLPers who know what the first year is like.
My roommate is phenomenal. He’s so understanding and we established from the get-go rules about food in the dorm: none of my food allergens in the room and if he eats anything that I would be allergic to, he just washes his hands. We have a refrigerator, but typically it’s stocked with caffeinated drinks, not food. We have pretty similar sleep schedules and personalities, so we get along super well. I feel super lucky to have such a good friend as a roommate (but honestly, I get along with everyone in PLP really well).
I applied before the beginning of the school year for an air conditioning unit that filters pollens out of the air to control my asthma; the university approved my accommodation. My roommate was definitely grateful for some cold air given we have windows that face the sun the majority of the day. This has helped immensely and I haven’t had any breathing problems.
I still carry two Epi-Pens and Benadryl in a Garmin case in my right pocket at all times. This is true when I eat, when I go to class, when I walk around the dorm, or really anytime I’m not sleeping. I also have a massive container under my bed with extra medication: Epi-Pens, albuterol, Pulmicort, Nasacort, etc. My roommate has a very similar tub under his. We constantly joke that we could run an underground pharmacy out of our dorm room if we wanted to.
As with any new living situations come new challenges: surprisingly, none of it involved my food allergies or asthma. My first quarter was plagued with sickness, instead.
The first week of class (of all weeks) I got superbly sick that I actually had to go home Wednesday through the weekend to recover. I had a nice combination of headaches, nausea, a fever, and exhaustion for quite a few days; while antibiotics knocked out the majority of my symptoms, I found out (through blood work) that I had an early infection of mono. Thankfully, I didn’t have any continuing symptoms.
I got a head cold halfway through the quarter and a stomach bug near the end of the quarter, and some close friends in PLP were happy to help supply (safe) chicken noodle soup to help me out. I made it through finals week and went home the week before Thanksgiving – the end of the 1st quarter.
The day before Thanksgiving, I woke up with swollen lymph nodes and was pretty tired. Through the weekend, I developed a fever, a superbly sore throat, and once again, I became absolutely exhausted. This time, it was a full blown “re-activated” infection of mono. I’m happily recovering after a week of antibiotics to combat a secondary infection of tonsillitis with plenty of rest, fluids, and reading. Thankfully, I’m home until the New Year so I have plenty of time to recuperate my health and prepare myself for the next quarter.
Certainly, I had more than a couple 2:30am mornings this quarter working on school or hanging out with friends. I think I might be limiting these next quarter to make sure my immune system can cope with everything.
If I had any one suggestion for college, it’s to talk to people. They are your best resources for your health, happiness, and sanity in school. When you’re sick, they can bring you fantastic chicken noodle soup. When you’re healthy, they can be excellent resources for studying, motivation, and even for a break every once in a while.
Overall, my first quarter was absolutely fantastic. College is a blast and I’m so grateful for all of the wonderful people at DU that make it a safe opportunity.
For those of us with children with food allergies, awakening in the middle of the night worrying about cupcakes isn’t that unusual! Of course, if you share that concern with your neighbors who don’t have to worry about unsafe food, they may not understand. Food allergy parents understand all too well!
My son started college in September, so I was surprised to find myself awake at 2 am one night recently worrying about our son, Morgan. We had worked really hard to create a safe eating experience for him in the dorm cafeteria, and it was working great. His roommate was more than understanding about not bringing in Morgan’s allergens into the dorm room. Everything was working well – why was I worrying?
Morgan was heading off on a weekend trip with his leadership class. Prior to him leaving for college, we had talked with the coordinator of the leadership class, and the fact that there would be an overnight trip to a cabin in the mountains. It was the night before this particular trip that I found myself awake concerned if he had contacted the chefs like the coordinator had said he could. I was more concerned that he was also bringing along his 2 extra EpiPens (he always carries 2 in his pocket, but I wanted to ensure he was going to be extra cautious)!
So I lay there wondering if Morgan would think I was crazy if I sent him a text at 2am asking him to please remember his 2 extra EpiPens. After 30 minutes, I no longer cared what he thought and went to find my phone to fire off a text to him. Funny thing – he wasn’t up in the middle of the night worried like I was!! In fact, he had already handled the conversation with the chefs and had packed the extra EpiPens – as per his text back to me at 7 am.
No matter what his age, and how many times he has taken care of himself – I’m still a Mom. After 18 years of monitoring his food, his environs and his safety, it’s very difficult to let go and allow Morgan to take the baton and manage his food allergies himself. He’s doing a great job!
Our son, Morgan, had a great first week of Orientation at the University of Denver (DU). Then, on the first day of classes, he began to get sick – really sick! He continued to have a fever and chills for two days. He knew to start up his Pulmicort inhaler immediately. We discussed the breathing difficulties the Enterovirus 68 creates for children and teens sending them to the ER and Intensive Care. Yet Morgan didn’t have any classic cold symptoms – no runny nose, no sneezing, and only a mild sore throat.
After two days of feeling awful, and missing a few classes in order to sleep, he called me, aka Mom. At that point, I suggested that he go to the Health Clinic on campus; however, it was almost 7 pm and the Clinic was closed. So, we talked and he decided to go to a local Urgent Care. He was feeling so poorly that he asked his roommate to drive him. The wait was over an hour, and the doctor didn’t know what he had. The strep test came back negative, and sadly even if Morgan has strep, the test always come back negative. The doctor prescribed a very strong antibiotic for him to take to kill off any bacteria in his system. He took the antibiotic, and then was up during the night vomiting it back up.
By the next morning, he was feeling so awful, that we talked about him coming home to see our family doctor that has known him his whole life. Once he got into this doctor’s office, his fever was almost 103. He had vomited during the drive home from college, and again in the doctor’s office after another strep test – which also turned out to be negative . Blood was taken to ensure he didn’t have mono, but it would likely come back negative because Morgan didn’t have symptoms long enough for the test to be accurate. The doctor gave him a antibiotic specific to kill off strep.
We also took Morgan to a chiropractor that our family has been seeing who utilizes Network Spinal Analysis (NSA) and Somato Respiratory Integration (SRI) in her practice. She is amazing when it comes to diagnosing the underlying issues that occur with our bodies – and not only the spine, but all illnesses. She determined that Morgan had a bacterial infection just by the way his liver was reacting. She gave him a treatment, plus had him soak his feet in a foot back with herbs. Between this treatment, and the antibiotic, Morgan was feeling much better the next day.
One day later, however, he broke out in a rash that covered his face, torso and chest. Morgan called back in to the family doctor, who thought it must be some type of virus, and the doctor suggested that he stop taking the antibiotic! In other words, he didn’t know what Morgan had either. Morgan has continued to get better, and has also continued to take the antibiotic.
I wanted to write a post about this because part of sending our children with food allergies off to college is the “hope” that they can take care of their own medical needs, or find a doctor that can assist. In addition to monitoring their food, training others on their EpiPen or Auvi-Q, and if they have asthma, being able to monitor that – they also need to know how to manage the current healthcare system! It’s a lot to take on at 18 years old. And it’s something to consider when sending your child with food allergies off to college where they go far away.
What would you do if your child got REALLY sick and they are 2000 miles away? We were really grateful that Morgan is only 60 miles away, and that we could pick him up and bring him home to see doctors who know him well. We also wanted to see him ourselves to determine just how sick he really was. He was home for 2 1/2 days, and slept most of the time. We took him back to school when he still had a rash, but was feeling much better.
What can you do to make sure that your child is ready to manage doctors in our healthcare system while away at college? Well, here’s what we did long before Morgan left for DU:
1) Have your child fill out all the doctor office’s paperwork each time you go in. We started this when Morgan was about 12 years old. Name, address, phone number is the basics!
2) Review with your child what medications they take, what time they take them and what strength. Every time Morgan visited the allergist, he had to write this down on the intake paperwork. It helped him to know exactly what meds he takes. He was very adept at this by high school age.
3) Have your child make an appointment with a doctor. This is especially important for them to practice when they aren’t feeling well. It’s really hard to deal with a doctor office phone tree when you’re healthy. When you’re sick and have to press a lot of numbers in order to make an appointment, it can be very frustrating. This is good to practice in high school.
4) Get a health insurance card for your child to keep in their wallet. When you go into a doctor’s office with your child, have them present the card. Your child needs to know if they will have to pay a copay or not. Who is responsible for the bill? Is it Mom or Dad that holds the insurance? All of these details are vital when they go off to college.
5) Decide who is going to ensure that medications that are taken get refills in a timely fashion (parents or student). Some insurance companies require that refills are obtained through mail order only. Which address do you want to use – home or college? Who is going to pay?
6) Decide if your child will give you access to their medical records once they turn 18. With the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) laws, at the age of 18, your child has to either handle their medical situations themselves or to authorize you, as a parent, to have access to their medical records. Believe me, even trying to get a doctor to call your child back can be problematic if you aren’t signed on as an authorized party on the HIPAA paperwork!
Thankfully, Morgan knew what to do when he was sick, and he also knew when it was more than just a mild sickness and time to call home. We’re grateful that he learned what to do before he left home, and we’re especially grateful that he’s feeling almost back to normal now!
Our son, Morgan, started college at the University of Denver (DU) this week. What a step it is to let him go, to make his own decisions, to take care of himself in the dining room, and to teach whomever he wants to teach about administering his EpiPen! This is what we’ve worked toward since he was first diagnosed with food allergies. It’s likely that he will make decisions different than I would, or than his Dad would. That’s part of growing up and learning!
We had worked toward his first day of college with DU Administrators for a while. Morgan, my husband and I met with the Disability Services Office back in March when we toured the campus. We discussed what accommodations he would need – safe food, no allergens in his room (no peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish or shellfish), and an A/C unit in his dorm room to mitigate his asthma. They didn’t think any of these would be an issue, but required that we complete some paperwork to get the university to pay for his A/C unit. We were given contact names for the chefs at DU to personally speak with them, and it was up to Morgan to discuss his needs with his roommate. If there was an issue, he could then get ‘outside’ help.
We problem solved various scenarios with the Housing Office at DU what could work for Morgan to attend DU if he was unable to get dining services to provide safe meals, and/or unable to get the roommate situation worked out. One of the Housing Office’s student employees has food allergies, and she talked in detail with Morgan about how she was safely able to eat in the dorm, how she texted chefs about her meals, and never had any allergic reactions! That encouraged us, but we also wanted a back up plan. The Housing Office offered that he could live in a dorm that had a kitchen in between two rooms. He could then have an RA (Resident Advisor) living in the other room to lessen the need for education of his food allergies. (Normally 4 boys live in these rooms, 2 on each side). Morgan would then have to shop and cook for himself. His preference was to live in a ‘regular’ dorm room with the Pioneer Leadership Program (PLP) – a Living and Learning Community that he applied to participate with. His one roommate would be a boy within this program, and Morgan would therefore eat in a dining hall.
Morgan and I roll played a few scenarios: what would you do if a professor is eating one of your allergens? (His answer: probably nothing unless I had to shake a hand, and then I’d tell them.) Where is the nearest hospital? (He looked on a Google map to find one). What would you do if your roommate is eating one of your allergens? (His answer: Talk to him about it!) What would you do if you knowingly ate one of your allergens – accidentally – but didn’t have any symptoms? (His answer: give myself an EpiPen and then call 911).
Morgan had several conversations with the head chef at DU over the summer, and he felt confident that he could live in the PLP dorm and eat safely since the cafeteria already labeled all of the foods that they made, and all the chefs were trained on food allergy awareness. Morgan and I met with the chefs one week prior to the school year starting. I wrote about that in a blog post here.
Morgan received his roommate assignment in July and started Facebook conversations with the young man. They met for the first time a few weeks before school started in a coffee shop in our hometown when his roommate was visiting extended family. They talked for 3 1/2 hours, and Morgan came home and said he never mentioned food allergies! I almost wanted to step in and start a conversation about how important it is for his roommate to be aware of his food allergies! Instead, I decided that I needed to step back and let him manage it. Morgan did mention his food allergies in a text message (kids these days!!) a few days prior to showing up at DU. His roommates response was, “Darn, I was really planning on eating fish in the room!” Apparently, it was no big deal to him at all to keep Morgan’s allergens out of the room.
When we arrived at DU, carting wheelbarrows worth of clothes and accessories into Morgan’s dorm room, we found the newly purchased A/C unit in a box. After inspecting the unit, my husband determined that he hadn’t brought the proper tools to put it together. I called the Housing Office to ask if someone was able to put the unit together for us. Within 5 minutes, the director of Housing was in Morgan’s room introducing herself! She called maintenance who had the unit operating within the hour!! Amazingly quick work! Morgan has been sleeping in air conditioning ever since. His roommate’s mother was thrilled since hayfever was a common issue for her son. She was hoping his allergies get better too!
Morgan brought practice EpiPens with him to college, with plans to train his roommate and others in the PLP program. Several of the chefs we met are EpiPen trained. Morgan is also capable of administering the EpiPen to himself. This is something I have to let go of. Morgan has ALWAYS carried 2 EpiPens since he was in middle school. I trust him to properly care for himself by training others.
At lunch the first day, Morgan went and talked with his chef contact about what was safe to eat, and whether he needed anything specially made. My husband and I were at DU for three days of Parent Orientation, and also ate in the cafeteria with the students. I was thrilled that they had a microwave out in the dining area for me to heat up my special meals, and my husband was thrilled with the tasty food! Morgan has had no problems finding safe, healthy food at each meal. At the last lunch that we ate with Morgan before we departed, the chef came up to him and asked him, “Where were you at dinner last night?” Morgan told him that he ate at a different dorm cafeteria, to which the chef replied, “Here’s my cell number. Make sure to text me when you don’t eat here so that I know you’re okay!” How wonderful that was to hear!
This is just the start for us, but a very good start it was! It takes a good amount of planning to get your child with food allergies to college, but it can be done. It can be especially rewarding when the college is so well-informed and willing to provide excellent care!
We are down to counting the days until our son, Morgan, goes off to the University of Denver (DU) for college. Before he moves in, we wanted to meet with the chef at the dorm cafeteria to discuss food allergies and safely feeding Morgan. Morgan had spoken with the DU head chef when we visited DU back in March, before he had made a firm decision on where he was going to school. The chef had suggested contacting him via email a few weeks before the school year started to discuss menus. Morgan took the lead in this, and he arranged a meeting with the chef for today, before DU starts its Orientation Week over Labor Day weekend.
Instead of just meeting with the head chef, we also met with 4 other chefs responsible for the various dorm cafeterias across the campus! What a welcome sight that was to see so many individuals interested in food and in Morgan’s safety! DU uses Sodexho for their food service, but this is certainly a different type of Sodexho than I have run into in K-12 schools or camps.
At the chef meeting, we discussed what foods Morgan was allergic to – peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish and shellfish – and found out that one of the chefs has similar allergies. Wow! How comforting that is as a parent to know that a chef not only knows what cross contact is, but also knows all about an EpiPen, and reading labels. In fairness, all of the other chefs also knew about these items too, and were more than willing to provide specific brands of bread, which is one of the biggest issues we have in finding safe bread without cross contact of sesame and nuts. This means they will specially order, or go to the grocery store, to purchase two specific brands of bread that are sesame and nut-free (Pepperidge Farm Pumpernickel and Roman Meal) for Morgan.
All of the foods/dishes in the cafeteria are labelled. The chefs were more than willing to make a safe meal for Morgan should he feel that was more to his comfort level, especially when one of his allergens is on the menu. And he was asked to talk with them at the beginning of every meal to discuss options.
The chefs all have experience with multiple students with food allergies in the past, and are prepared for any type of food allergy. We discussed the onslaught of forthcoming students with food allergies, and their mantra over and over again was, “We just want to feed you what you want that’s safe.” How wonderful is that?!
Two of the cafeterias have similar layouts with a pizza bar, a salad bar, international dish, and grilled protein. One of the cafeterias is more of a Food Court style where students can take meals to go. Also, the library has a cafe with foods that students can purchase. On the DU campus, there is a Subway – which is safe for Morgan – and is covered under his meal plan. He has many options, and certainly shouldn’t go hungry!
We are thrilled that we feel great about sending Morgan off to college knowing that so many chefs are interested in his well-being. And Morgan is excited for this next opportunity!
A friend of ours says that God answers prayers in one of four ways:
and Beyond Your Wildest Dreams!
When my son, Morgan, started kindergarten in the Fall of 2001, I prayed every day when I dropped him off at school, “God, please take care of my boy!” It was such a part of my routine, and it helped me to be able to walk back home knowing I’d done everything that I could do to keep him safe, including a little prayer humbly asking for help.
What I didn’t know then is the many positive things that Morgan – and our family – have received because of his food allergies. It’s so easy to focus on all the hardships and issues that food allergies create. I don’t need to list those here, because if you’re reading this you no doubt know what those are! Back then, I couldn’t imagine what the future would look like for Morgan blazing the trail in our school district.
He was the first student to have multiple life threatening food allergies. He was also the first student to have a 504 Plan for his food allergies. An entirely new culture was going to have to be created in the school, and there were a lot of parents not happy about that!
Now that Morgan has just graduated from high school, I have been reflecting on his entire school career. Some of the good things that Morgan has received from his food allergies are:
Compassion for other children who manage an illness
A desire to read (at a young age) to be able to read food labels
A healthy lunch for school each day made by his Dad in elementary and middle school – usually with a positive hand-written note included
Learning how to advocate for himself in various situations, not just when it involves food
Close friendships created with kids across the USA by attending food allergy conferences
An ability to tell who really is his friend, because real friends care about keeping him safe
Great food at overnight camps since Mom packed his safe food
A healthier diet than most of his peers!
The ability to mentor younger children with food allergies
Learning that he is a REALLY good public speaker
Creating his own website design company (since working a minimum wage job at a restaurant wasn’t going to be preferable for money-making)
Another reason to say NO! to drugs and alcohol
A distinguishing element when he applied for college scholarships
It’s been quite a learning experience for him and for me to get him safely through school and to keep him included in activities. He went from preschool through high school in Academy School District 20 – fifteen years in all – without an allergic reaction. We certainly didn’t know that was possible when he began school. That result is beyond our wildest dreams and certainly an answered prayer!
In the Fall, he is off to the University of Denver (DU), where I’m sure he will continue to blaze a trail with food allergy advocacy. And I’ll bet that when my husband and I drop him off at his dorm, I’ll be saying a little prayer, “God, please take care of my boy!”
I’ve been asked recently to provide a checklist for preparing for college when you’re managing food allergies. We’ve had a lot of experience over the last 5 years preparing and getting both of our children (with different food issues) into college.
Our daughter, Michaela, has celiac disease (diagnosed in high school) and a mast cell disorder, which wasn’t diagnosed until college. She has a very limited diet with many intolerances and a wheat allergy too! Our son, Morgan, has life threatening food allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish and shellfish along with eczema, environmental allergies (pets and pollen) and mild asthma.
We’ve visited almost every college in Colorado, and a few outside of Colorado too. With all that experience, here’s a college checklist to assist your child with food allergies get prepared for college:
Take an accurate self-survey to determine how responsible you are with your food allergies and/or asthma:
Be honest – do you ALWAYS remember to carry your EpiPen/Auvi-Q? Can you train someone on the administration of your epinephrine autoinjector?
Do you remember to take your other medications (antihistamine, inhaler, etc.) without your parent(s) reminding you?
Are you willing to talk with a cafeteria worker about the seriousness of your food allergies?
Do you feel comfortable talking with a dorm roommate about your need for a safe living space?
Can you cook for yourself and shop for groceries if you’re going to live in an apartment?
If you can answer in the affirmative, you’re probably responsible enough to go away to college and appropriately manage your food allergies. If there’s still a few questions you’re concerned about, I’d suggest working toward that level of responsibility to ensure that your freshman year in college isn’t fraught with a trip (or two or three) to the ER.
In addition to my own children, I’ve communicated with dozens of young adults who are in college managing food allergies. Each of them finds a way to manage their own unique living situation along with their food allergies, yet several of them have experienced anaphylaxis while away at college. Having an EpiPen or Auvi-Q within reach is vital. Accidents do happen, so be prepared!
Get an idea of what you want to pursue academically
Food allergies aren’t the only thing you’ll be managing in college! Having an idea of what you want to major in will narrow down some of your choices for schools. We’ve learned that it’s expensive to pay application fees to multiple colleges, so it’s best to delve into the college website to see what degrees they offer.
If you have no idea what you want to major in, check out a local community college. Our daughter, Michaela, went to Pikes Peak Community College for two years and loved it. It allowed her to decide what she wanted to major in, and then she transferred to a 4-year university after completing her Associates Degree.
Are you ready to leave the safety of home?
How do you feel about going FAR away from home? Will you need to get an allergist nearby to help manage your allergies and/or asthma? Or would you rather your college be closer to home yet enable you to live on campus? Or do you prefer to live at home?
There are a lot of kids without food allergies that don’t do well thousands of miles from home. Others seek that special Ivy League degree, and are more than ready to be a far distance from home. If you have asthma, you might need to live in a dorm with air conditioning, or filtered air. Not all college dorms have air conditioning; therefore this issue may require discussions with the Disability Services Office (DSO) of the college and a letter from your allergist to get what you need from the Housing Office.
The 504 Plan from K-12 schools doesn’t follow you to college. Every college we’ve visited has stated that accommodations are available in college, however there is a whole new set of paperwork to complete, and documentation of the medical condition will be necessary for the DSO to authorize the accommodation. Many DSO’s aren’t yet up to date with their paperwork for food allergy accommodations. They generally deal with learning accommodations, so some patience and education may be necessary on your part.
At the age of 18, students are considered legal adults. Therefore, Mom & Dad won’t be negotiating accommodations – you will be! Know what you need to stay safe and healthy.
Visit the colleges/universities that interest you academically
These visits are vital we’ve found. Schools can look great or horrible if you only look at their website. Visiting in person gives you a whole different feel for the school. A visit also allows you to check out the dorm rooms and the cafeteria meal plans, meet the students and the professors, take a tour of the campus, check out the emergency procedures and ask LOTS of questions!
What is your ideal living situation in college? What is your ideal college academically? Can these two scenarios be found in one college?
We’ve found that it never hurts to ask for exactly what is wanted. If you want a chef to specially prepare your meals, ask if that can be done. Do you want to live in an apartment? Ask for that. First, you need to know what you’re comfortable with:
When visiting a college, here’s what we look for in relation to food allergies/asthma:
Are ingredients listed on all foods in the cafeteria? Is there a chef on site to take special orders? How many of your allergens are regularly served? Can you speak with a Dining Manager about your needs during your visit? How old are the dorms? Has there been any water damage? Are the dorms Air Conditioned?
If not, what documentation will be necessary to submit for a medical necessity to live in Air Conditioning?
Can the Resident Advisor be trained on the administration of an EpiPen/Auvi-Q?
Can roommates be selected to ensure no food allergens are in the dorm room?
Where is the nearest Emergency Room?
How is 911 handled on campus?
Is food allowed in the classrooms?
Is smoking allowed on campus?
What paperwork is necessary to complete for the Disability Services Office?
Can you obtain that package of paperwork?
There are probably a dozen more questions to ask, but you get the idea that we are VERY thorough. We’ve found that talking directly to the person in charge while visiting the campus is vital. Take the time to set up personal meetings with everyone when you visit and pick up business cards to be able to follow up later. We’ve found that coming to campus with a list of questions generated from Mom/Dad and from the potential student is helpful.
Make a decision!
The best thing to know is that just because you’ve made a decision to attend a specific school, this is rarely set in stone. If things don’t go as planned, you can chalk it up to a learning experience and move on from there.
Our daughter, Michaela, lived at home for the first year and a half while attending the local community college. She wasn’t ready to live in an apartment, shop and cook for herself while trying to adjust to college academics. After 18 months, she was ready to move in to a room in a house she shared with a housemate. She transferred to the local University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and graduated from there in May 2013. She has her own cooking utensils, cutting board, silverware and dishes. It has worked fairly well, although she has had to do a large amount of education and then remind her housemate when things are accidentally shared.
Our son, Morgan, has decided to attend the University of Denver (DU), where he is hoping to be able to get approval for a room air conditioning unit in his dorm room. The Disability Services Office will be reviewing his paperwork soon. He will eat in the cafeteria where the head dining manager has extensive experience preparing safe meals for students with food allergies. The students get assigned to one chef whom they can text message prior to each meal. Their meal is then prepared separate from everyone else’s. It’s a wonderful system that has worked well for other students managing food allergies! Should the air conditioned room not come through, Morgan will live in a dorm with A/C that also comes with a kitchen, which will be a nice backup. We feel very blessed that DU became a possibility for Morgan when he received a Boettcher Scholarship. It is a dream come true!
We hope that your dreams come true with the college of your choice that can keep you safe and healthy while enjoying a full college experience!
It’s hard to believe that our son, Morgan, is a senior in high school already! The topic of college is coming up frequently in our house. We continue to learn more and more about what information and laws are available for students with food allergies in college.
The Food Allergy Research Education (FARE) website has minimal information on sending your child with food allergy to college. They have two pages of info here and here.
I can’t find anything about the Lesley University settlement and how it pertains to food allergic students from any of the major food allergy non-profit groups. The Lesley University settlement was initiated “around October 2009, <when> the United States Department of Justice (“United States”) received a complaint alleging that Lesley University (“Lesley” or the “University”) violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12181-12189 (“ADA”) by failing to make necessary reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures to permit students with celiac disease and/or food allergies (collectively “food allergies”) to fully and equally enjoy the privileges, advantages, and accommodations of its food service and meal plan system.”
The University was requiring students to purchase a meal plan, yet the school had no way to safely feed the students. The Department of Justice determined that the University was in violation of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and mandated that they accommodate students on special diets. This settlement has implications for all colleges and universities, especially that celiac disease and food allergies can be considered a disability as defined by the ADA.
The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness has a great 2013 College Student Toolkit that explains the impact of the Lesley University settlement on students with celiac disease.
We’ve learned a few things in an attempt to find the ‘right college’ for Morgan. First off, he wanted a specific Engineering degree (Computer Science), so that helped him to narrow his choices. Then, we started visiting a few schools.
We learned that it’s important to contact the University/College Disability Services Office (or whatever that office is called at a particular school) as a starting point. The timing of this contact may be best AFTER the student is admitted into the school. We have found that dealing directly with the Housing and/or Dining Services office might yield incorrect/unlawful suggestions.
In other words, the Housing Manager at a Colorado school that we visited told our family that it wouldn’t be possible for our son to have a dorm room free of his allergens as a requirement/accommodation. My contact at the Office of Civil Rights stated that this is incorrect. A ‘reasonable accommodation’ (which is the standard that colleges are held to, not FAPE-Free Appropriate Public Education) would be an allergen-free dorm room.
You can also find out general information from the Housing and Dining Offices that would be pertinent to your child attending college: if cafeterias routinely post ingredient lists, whether their cafeteria workers receive any training about food allergies, whether the kitchen can accommodate special requests, if the dorm rooms have air conditioning (for students with asthma), whether refrigerators, microwaves or air purifiers are allowed in dorm rooms, whether freshman are allowed to live in an apartment rather a dorm. The list goes on and on – we know that there are specific items that Morgan wants in order to maintain his health and safety, and we asked each school our questions about the specifics.
We found that specifying accommodations is best left to the drafting of a written document with the Disability Service Office. Sadly, though, some of these offices have never dealt with a student with food allergies. You, the parent, and your child may be training them about what to do with food allergies.
Lastly, most Universities/Colleges that I’ve asked will not allow their staff/employees to administer an epinephrine autoinjector. Their only step is to call 911. The student will be either “on their own” or will have to rely upon training their friends to respond during an anaphylaxis episode. This is an important question to ask when you visit a college, and then determine how comfortable you and your child are with their answer!
Morgan has yet to decide where he’s going to attend college. We’ll keep you updated on his choice!
Many of you probably saw the blog post by a young Washington state woman titled, “How I was Kicked Out of College Because of My Allergy.” The blog post was taken down, but a local news station interviewed this young woman here. I was horrified and confused how this situation had occurred, especially after the young lady contacted the Disability Services Office of her school.
Since my son, Morgan, is now 17 years old and a junior in high school, we have begun the college search in earnest. It is frightening at times how little a college really knows about food allergies. However, colleges and universities need to get ready. There are approximately 15 million Americans with food allergies; and one out of 12 are under age 18. That’s about two in every classroom. Guess where they are going to end up? In college!
I wrote a blog post last year about Food Allergy, College & 504 Plans after attending a talk by a Senior Attorney with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in Denver. The OCR Attorney suggests that all students with food allergies should start with the school’s Disabilities Services Office (DSO) rather than go directly to the Dining & Housing Office and ask for assistance. The DSO is more likely to know what is legally required with accommodations to access the curriculum. The problem we found is that if you go to DSO first, prior to being admitted to a university/college, you might find your child not admitted. While this is not supposed to occur, it’s easy to see how it could.
When I called a ‘certain’ Colorado university last year inquiring about meeting with the DSO when our family was visiting the school, I was told that they wouldn’t meet with us unless their 6 pages of paperwork had been completed AND that an accommodation had been determined to be warranted. I then asked how many students with food allergies the DSO had dealt with. The woman I spoke to had never heard of one student! She did say she was on the job for only a month, but that really didn’t help me feel any better. If this wasn’t part of her training, my son would be in for a long road toward educating the DSO about food allergies and what accommodations could be expected. Additionally, we didn’t want to put a big red “A” (for allergies!) on his application to the engineering program which is a highly competitive program. It would certainly be easy for them to deny my son’s application under the auspices of anything but accommodating for food allergies. (I later learned that the information we had gotten about not meeting with us until paperwork was completed was erroneous. Lesson learned: ALWAYS ASK TO SPEAK WITH THE HIGHEST LEVEL MANAGER IN THE DSO OFFICE!!)
I’ve spoken with the OCR Senior Attorney several times through the last year about numerous situations in schools where food allergies are concerned. One thing to remember is that public K-12 schools are held to the standard of FAPE – Free Appropriate Public Education, while public colleges are held to the standard of “reasonable accommodations.” The attorney prefers to not get hung up on the term ‘reasonable’ and instead to focus on “effective” accommodations for the student. The question becomes – What’s reasonable to accomplish an equal opportunity for the student? The accommodation has to be effective.
The idea is that the DSO of a school and a student should have a continued dialogue to determine what accommodations are necessary. In this interactive process, the school goes back to the student to see what’s working and what isn’t. The student reports back to the DSO with similar information. There aren’t magic solutions or one-size-fits-all. It may take some creativity, and it also varies with each student and each school. While it may be reasonable for a professor to learn how to administer an EpiPen – in a class of 300 students, is it effective? Additionally, this process necessitates that a student have complete understanding about the exact nature of their food allergy. Do they have contact issues? Have they ever had an inhalant reaction? What accommodations will be necessary for the student to have equal access to the curriculum?
There are two affirmative defenses for a college to deny an accommodation request by a student: 1) the accommodation would require a fundamental alteration of an academic program and 2) the accommodation would put an undue financial or administrative burden on the school.
The OCR Attorney told me that food allergies are a new experience for colleges, and neither the OCR nor colleges have come up with solutions. There really is very little that the OCR can do, other than provide guidance at this point since every student and every college is different. I was told that the OCR comes out with “Dear Colleague” letters to colleges on various topics, and such a letter about food allergies is somewhere in the queue. The release date of this has not yet been determined.
I recently attended a presentation by a Senior Attorney for the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in Denver, about protections of Section 504, Title II and Students with Disabilities in Public Schools from the American with Disabilities Act . This presentation was made to the MOSAIC support group in Denver, Colorado on May 7, 2012 in regard to K-12 education and post secondary education.
This write up pertains only to students with food allergies in COLLEGE.
Sending a child with food allergies off to college is a daunting task and there are many ways to prepare for such; information in this blog post should not be used to argue a specific issue that you may have with a college, but is provided here for informational purposes only.
While it might work for some students with food allergies to deal directly with the college cafeteria staff or college housing office to secure accommodations, this may not be the best route to take in the long run. The college will provide information about the approved accommodations to the teachers and/or the cafeteria staff. The idea is to get a college to view our child’s food allergy as a Section 504/Title II issue and not just a dietary issue to be managed in the cafeteria.
A student with food allergies heading to college should begin with the school’s Disability Services Office (or whatever the school calls this service) to find out what medical documentation and/or other documentation will be needed for the child and what accommodations are recommended. It is well to do this long before the freshman school year begins.
Most colleges receive some type of financial assistance through the Department of Education and therefore would be subject to Section 504 regulations (34 CFR part 104, subpart E). Schools that are public entities, for example state colleges and universities, are also subject to Title II of the American with Disabilities Act. (28 CFR part 35). Colleges and universities are not required to provide FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education), but they are required to provide reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. Not just academic accommodations, but also modifications and adjustments in the school’s programs when necessary to provide the student with an equal opportunity to enjoy the benefits and services of the schools programs. Cafeteria accommodations can be included, such as ingredient listings of foods and staff training on cross contamination.
OCR expects colleges to engage in an interactive process with students to determine the most effective way for the student to have an equal opportunity of an education. And some colleges will be better at managing this process and helping students manage their disability. That’s why it’s important to start with the Disability Services Office. The approval of adjustments may be in writing. And it would certainly benefit your student to obtain any agreements with the Disabilities Service Office in writing.
The Title II regulation does not require a school that is a public entity to take any action that it can demonstrate would result in the fundamental alteration in a program it provides or in an undue financial or administrative burden. The school has the burden of proving that compliance with the regulation would constitute such an alteration or adminstrative or financial burden. (Such as a business major student saying they have a disability with math and therefore shouldn’t be required to take any math classes to major in business).
OCR doesn’t express opinions about hypothetical cases, particularly where they do not have all the facts and have not been involved in the interactive process with the student and disability services office to consider all the information available and determine what academic adjustments, if any, would be appropriate. Generally, OCR does not tell schools which accommodations they must or may provide; they examine the process followed to determine what accommodations are or are not provided and whether they satisfy the requirement to ensure an equal opportunity for the student. There are some considerations to take into account. First (assuming there is a qualified* student with a disability), the school would be required not to exclude the student from participation in the any of the school’s programs on the basis of the disability. Then, the school may not provide services in a manner that limits or has the effect of limiting the participation of the student with the disability. Of course, accommodations requested and provided must be reasonable. So, depending on circumstances, it may be unreasonable to expect a school to publish all the ingredients of all foods made available through its food services program. However, it might be reasonable to expect the school to make a number of foods available and identified as “peanut and tree nut free” or “dairy free” or “free of any seafood product” or something similar. Again, it would depend very much of the facts of an individual case.
*Qualified individual with a disability means an individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable modifications to rules, policies, or practices . . . meets the essential eligibility requirements for the receipt of services or the participation in programs or activities provided by the public entity. 28 C.F.R. § 35.104.
It was suggested, you may want to take a look at the Title II regulations (applicable to public schools and colleges—can be found on the internet):
28 C.F.R. Part 35, §§ 35.130, 35.130(b)(1)(ii and iii), 35.130(d), 35.164. See 34 CFR 104 subpart E. The principles applicable under the Section 504 regulations are fundamentally the same.
I have observed many students don’t start with the school’s Disability Services Office. They usually start with the dietitian and/or cafeteria staff and then if they have problems they just transfer out of the school. ALWAYS start with the Disability Services Office.
Lastly, once your child is 18 years old, the school’s Disability Services Office might only speak with your child…not with the parent, to develop a plan of reasonable accommodations in order to comply with the laws ensuring the student’s confidentiality. This is one reason students need to learn to advocate for themselves early in their school career!
Carlo, when we spoke last year, you were getting ready to attend the University of Chicago. You have allergies to Dairy, Wheat, Eggs, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Soy, Sesame, Fish, Shellfish, Most Fruits and Some Vegetables. What did you find most difficult with eating in a dorm cafeteria on a daily basis?
What I’ve found most difficult is finding a good variety of protein for me to eat. There hasn’t ever really been a problem with there being food for me to eat, but there have been some difficulties with the variety of food, and I’ve been forced to have the same foods over and over, which although it keeps me fed, is somewhat frustrating. There’s always salads and some vegetables and fruits, but protein is harder to come by.
The dining hall is separated into various stations, each serving a certain type of food. There is a Euro Station–mostly carved meats (but almost always with sauces/dressing) and some sort of vegetables, the Halal Station, the Kosher Station, the Harvest Station that serves vegetarian dishes, the Pasta Station, the Salad Station, the Deli Station, the Pizza Station and the Grill Station. You can go around to any of the stations and take what you want, making a meal out of whatever any of the stations are serving that meal. I have to avoid most of these stations. The Pasta and Pizza Stations I pretty obviously must avoid, and the Halal Station and the Harvest Station frequently serve things I can’t have, because of their restrictions on certain types of foods. The Kosher Station occasionally serves things I can eat. The Deli Station is full of cross-contamination, as is the Salad Station.
The Grill Station is just a grill. It makes hamburger patties (you can add your own bun and toppings later), grilled chicken breast, and grilled cheese (which is prepared on a separate grill from the hamburgers and chicken). It makes these things for lunch and dinner every day, which provides a nice stability to the ever-changing options that the other stations offer.
Did you have any allergic reaction?
Thankfully, I have not had any reactions while at college. I think part of that is because I’ve been extra careful, perhaps even more than I usually am. A large part, though, has to be attributed to the dining staff, because they really are trained about cross-contamination and they are very willing to change gloves or use a separate pan. That said, I try to stay away from stations that could pose any sort of risk.
Did you find any other students dealing with similar allergies?
I haven’t really found anyone else with comparable allergies, both in number and in magnitude. There are a few people with intolerances (lactose intolerant) and maybe one or two people with peanut or tree nut allergies, but there aren’t very many people with allergies or anyone with allergies coming close to how many I have. That said, everyone I’ve met has been knowledgeable about food allergies or very interested in learning about them, so I’ve felt safe among my peers even though they don’t have allergies.
How do you feel about next semester and eating in the dorm cafeteria?
One of the things I’m doing over this break is meeting with my nutritionist at Mt. Sinai’s Jaffe Food Allergy Institute. Hopefully, I’ll be able to work with the nutritionist to develop strategies for me to successfully maintain a healthy diet eating in the dining hall. Then, I’ll take those recommendations and meet with my contacts at school, to work it out. I’m also going to sit down again with the dining hall staff and my contacts in the administration and see if we can’t get some of the things that have been proposed put into action. Other than that, I’m really looking forward to it. I’m excited for my classes and looking forward to Winter Quarter, despite the weather.
For your sophomore year, what living arrangements are you planning?
At the University of Chicago, the dorms work in a house system (kind of like Hogwarts). In your first year, you are placed into a house that contains ~40-100 people, first through fourth years. You can stay in that house for all four years, if you would like, or you can move off campus starting your second year. I’m planning on staying in my house, because I love the people in it and living on campus makes everything significantly easier. I may, however, start going to the grocery store more frequently and making more of my own meals to avoid the dining hall. I would, in that case, change my meal plan from the unlimited (which is mandatory for all first years and really nice) to one that more fits the changed situation.
Did you go hungry on any given day because of a lack of safe food?
Thankfully, since the Grill station is always open and serving plain chicken breast and plain hamburger patties, there was never a day where I went hungry. There were certainly days where the lack of variety was frustrating, or two or three day stretches where the only safe food for me would be from the Grill station, but I was never walking around constantly hungry, except as much as all college students on the go do, but that’s just the nature of dining hall food.
Based upon your experience, what would you tell a current high school senior with food allergies looking at college?
Really, the best thing I can say to a high school senior is that food allergies don’t need to be another thing stressing you out. The entire college process is an arduous one, and you don’t need another stressor. Pick a school that you think is the best fit for you academically and socially. All the schools I considered and all the schools that my friends with food allergies go to have been pretty good about dealing with food allergies. Don’t let food allergies dictate what college you go to. You will be able to work with the dining services staff, or just go around them and provide for yourself, if need be. I’m not going to lie and say it will be a walk in the park, but you can successfully and safely manage your food allergies in college. It isn’t easy, but nothing about living with food allergies is. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible, and that especially doesn’t mean that your food allergies will hold you back from having a happy, successful, normal life. Don’t let your food allergies add yet another stress to an already stressful process and don’t let your food allergies stop you from doing what you think is best for you academically and socially.
It’s difficult to know where to start when your child with food allergies gets to that age to begin the college search. The good news is that most high schools are well equipped with counselors to help with the college search itself; however it’s up to you and your child to pursue the discussion of food allergies with each individual college or university. We found that high school counselors weren’t educated enough about food allergies to know how to answer any of our questions about a college’s ability to feed our child in a dorm cafeteria.
A university website that states,” We can handle virtually any food allergy” was not sufficient for us to feel comfortable with our child living in the dorm and eating in the cafeteria. We wanted to visit the school, eat in the cafeteria, talk with the dietitian on staff, discuss ingredients being listed for all foods and determine the menu selections for each meal in addition to discussing academics. It takes more effort to find a school that meets your child’s desires for a major and for food allergies, but it’s well worth the time to ensure safety, enjoyment and a career destination.
Finding the “Right College”
Our daughter, Michaela, graduated from high school in 2009. She has celiac disease along with multiple other severe food intolerances (beef, pork and lemon to name a few). She didn’t really know what she wanted to major in, but she had a general idea of a Liberal Arts major, so that helped our search. I suggest looking for colleges with a major in mind, and not with food allergies as #1 on your list of priorities. If your child decides that they want to major in a field that’s not offered at a particular college (that you chose for its food allergy expertise), then you have to start the food allergy education process over with another school when your child transfers. Choose a major and then take a look at the cafeteria!
Michaela knew that she wasn’t interested in moving out of state. If your child does want to go to a school out of state, looking for a local allergist would likely be necessary prior to enrollment. The maturity of your child is a large factor in moving far away and making this a positive experience. Moving a long distance away from family is difficult for children who don’t have food allergies – managing food allergies on top of this big change may be more than what some kids can or want to handle. Asking your child, “What’s the ideal situation for you to go to college?” might yield some very interesting answers!
Visit Colleges and Universities
Michaela had participated in numerous one week and two week music camps through her high school years at several universities in Colorado. This gave her first hand experience of how the cafeteria works and what living at the school for an entire semester could look like. Sadly, she found that only one school – the University of Denver – was able to cook for her safely. All of the other schools either weren’t able to provide three safe meals per day or weren’t willing to try. One school had a gluten free menu for lunch and dinner, but not for breakfast. Another said, “we can cook anything you need,” and then had a menu of only 3 items – all of which included wheat. She ended up bringing her food for the entire one week camp and keeping it in a refrigerator utilizing a microwave to heat it. This can work for one week, but for an entire semester this would be onerous!
A friend and her gluten-intolerant daughter visited a college campus and asked the cafeteria manager what they do for students with celiac disease. The manager said, “We keep all peanut butter on a separate table!” It can be frightening the lack of understanding about food allergies and celiac disease in a college cafeteria where your child will basically be “eating out” for three meals a day.
We also went on campus visit days to numerous universities across Colorado. In the cafeteria, we searched for ingredient listings, talked with the dietitian on staff, and determined the menu selections for each meal. What we found was that the more expensive the tuition, the more likely a college/university cafeteria was to work with us. A large, public university that feeds 5000 students a day is very unlikely to accommodate a student with food allergies. One such school told Michaela that she was welcome to live in an apartment her freshman year. She gave that some thought, but decided that adjusting to college classes plus having to grocery shop and cook for herself was more than what she wanted to take on at 18 years old.
Many school cafeterias have students on work/study working in the cafeteria and this can make training about food allergies and EpiPens more difficult. Ask about the cafeteria workers when you visit a campus; watch how meals are served (same spatula used for serving all dishes?) and how plates are washed. All of this will help you and your child know where problems could occur.
Food Allergy Aware Colleges
I am currently participating in a committee looking into best practices of food allergy aware colleges for the Food Allergy Initiative (FAI). The University of Michigan (see link here) has probably one of the best systems for food allergy students. This is truly a food allergy aware college!
A food allergy aware school personalizes the experience of dining in the cafeteria; they don’t require living in the dorm freshman year (they allow for apartment living if your child is up for this!); they provide ingredient listings for all foods in the cafeteria; they have an aware chef and they have nearby EMTs and a hospital.
Many Ways to go to College with Food Allergies
Michaela decided to stay home her first year of college and then moved out to rent a room in a house near her school, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. This allowed her to get a repertoire of menu items that she learned how to cook, and she adjusted to college slowly. This was the perfect solution for her.
I know of students who went to college and lived in a single dorm room so they at least didn’t have to deal with a roommate bringing in unsafe foods. Others I know brought a microwave and refrigerator and prepared all their meals in their dorm room. Still others worked out safe menu items with the school cafeteria.
In other words, there are many ways to go to college with food allergies!
As a parent, it’s easy to want your child to have the same experience you had with school – maybe join a sport or live in a sorority house. Our suggestion is to allow your child to create his/her own experience. It’s likely to be far different from yours, but that’s okay. And it might have been different even if your child didn’t have food allergies!
I am a fair young maiden of twenty-one and a half. Just kidding, that’s super old. Anyways, I’m a legal adult, and I have allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish, shellfish, mustard seed, sesame and nigella seed. Whew. I’ve also got a handful of intolerances and sensitivities, like gluten, poultry, eggs, eggplant and milk.
I think I remember reading that your allergies appeared “later” in life. Can you tell me about that?
Oh, geez. Yeah, it all started when I was nineteen. I LOVED nuts. Almond butter, chocolate-covered peanuts, anything amaretto-flavored. I used to eat fruit and nut bars every morning for breakfast. One day, I had a cherry raw bar while waiting for the train to get into Manhattan. By the time I had gone under the East River, I was bright red, covered with hives and couldn’t swallow. Needless to say, I hightailed it to the doctor that day.
From there came every couple of months, a new food allergy or intolerance. Since I’m such a food nerd, I remember each dish that began this discovery of my issues: it was a bagel when I discovered gluten; a shrimp summer roll with seafood; halvah with sesame; quiche for the eggs; Thanksgiving turkey for the poultry; a red curry with all the seeds, and pad Thai with soy. I’ve always been a milktard, though.
It’s kind of weird for me because I still crave these things. I haven’t had sesame chicken or bouillabaisse in three years. But, I don’t let it get me down….I find ways to get around my cravings for things like pasta alfredo and peanut butter fudge. And that’s when you see me doing crazy stuff with nutritional yeast and sunflower seed butter on Food for Dorks.
Have you ever experienced anaphylaxis? If so, what were the circumstances? If not, what type of allergic symptoms have you experienced?
Ahhh! Anaphylaxis is so scary. I’ve definitely gone through it a couple of times. One particular time sticks with me. I was eating lunch on my break at work. A shrimp roll from Dean & Deluca. I’d never ever had a problem with seafood before. About two minutes after eating the whole thing, I threw up all over my co-worker. In the break room. Yeah, I know. Apparently, I turned purple, and my manager had to stab me in the leg with my EpiPen. We have a special bond now. I think. Mostly, I remember fading in and out of sleep at the hospital and waking up with a deflated tongue. No longer was I crimson colored, now I was back to being pale & pasty.
I’ve had other non-anaphylactic reactions, too, though. Standard itchiness, nausea, dizziness, you know, the usual. Boring in comparison to your body throwing a riot over Vietnamese food. But, still annoying.
My son, Morgan, was very impressed that you went to a culinary arts school. Which one did you attend? How did they make accommodations for you?
Tell Morgan thanks for me, will ya? I attend the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, and graduate in October. The instructors were pretty accommodating, I guess. They don’t force me to do anything I don’t feel comfortable doing. One really cool thing is that the instructors let me use alternatives for allergens, like soy-free margarine, coconut aminos (a soy sauce alternative) and Daiya cheese. I definitely get made fun of whenever I wear my mask during lessons where we cook something I’m allergic to. But, whatever. I don’t let it get to me. At all. I’m there to learn– not only how to cook, but to master gourmet dishes and techniques so that I can provide y’all with tasty treats and recipes! Oh, and I would absolutely recommend that everyone should take a cooking class at least once. It will greatly improve your quality of life.
Please tell me about Food for Dorks. Where is your blog located? Are you on FB, Twitter, elsewhere, etc?
Food for Dorks is my lil’ blog baby. It’s a lot of fun for me. I’m honestly just sharing what I love doing with the rest of the world. Maybe it’s trite, but reinventing cuisine that is all-inclusive is a true art. Food for Dorks has allowed me to share my art.
But yeah, I love being able to share recipes, reviews, articles and general culinary insight to the rest of the glutard and peanutard world. We’re definitely not hard to find. Pretty much everywhere on the internet. Like us on Facebook, tweet us at @foodfordorks, follow us on tumblr, visit the website.
Are you still in school or out in the work world? How do you manage working with food every day?
Still in school! I was kind of fed up with regular school, and I liked cooking. I’m also an angsty twenty-something. Add those up all together and you get a gap year of culinary school. It’s like a Julia Roberts movie, or something. I also have a job, but it’s in technology. Yep, I’m a full on nerd-dork hybrid. Food isn’t that scary to me; you just gotta know your strengths and your weakness, and most importantly, you have to know yourself. Only then can you proceed with confidence.
Many parents are concerned about their child with food allergies dating. Tell me about how you manage this.
I laugh a little when I think about my dating life. Not just because I’m single. There are issues that I think concern anyone affected by food allergies when dating, and that’s telling your date about them, and then the whole kissing thing. Here’s my advice to your offspring:
On the telling your date about food allergies thing, don’t make it a big, awkward deal. It’s not a big awkward, deal. It’s just who you are. You can’t eat shellfish, so Japanese food is out. Done. Have Tex-Mex instead, or do something without food. Parks, museums, bike riding, there’s a lot out there to do.
If you’re like me, with a bunch of allergies, just own it. If you do go out to eat, and your date orders something you’re allergic to, just remind them politely to wash their hands after. They’ll learn their lesson about eating your no-no food around you when you decline their kisses.
And on that note, the kissing thing. Oh, my gosh. I had a boyfriend once that forgot to tell me he had a Snickers bar before seeing me. Of course we made out, and then, of course, I promptly broke out in hives. Besides him being a bonafide idiot, he learned a lesson: be mindful! I made him do my laundry the next day. Don’t worry, I dumped him eventually.
Basically: don’t date dummies, and ask. Don’t ever be afraid to ask your date if they’ve eaten something you’re allergic to. If they can’t remember what they’ve had to eat within the past eight hours…don’t date them. Oh, and one last thing to remind your kid about dating, in general: if someone’s going to be a jerk to you about your food allergies, onto the next one. Seriously. Only date people that care about you. That includes your dietary restrictions.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
If your child is ever down about their food allergies, wants dating advice, or just wants someone to look up to that understands, please, by all means, don’t hesitate to contact me. I can definitely play pen pal if your kiddo needs a big sister. That’s email@example.com.
Same goes for you too, Mom and Dad!
And, if you have any requests for cuisine, holla at yo’ girl. I’d be happy whip up something for ya.
Michaela, what food allergies (and intolerances) do you have and how old are you?
I am twenty years old. I am moderately allergic to wheat and have severe gluten intolerance and other intolerances to beef, pork and lemon. I have not been tested for Celiac disease with a biopsy because I went off of wheat and noticed how much better it made me feel and didn’t want to start eating it again. GI doctors require with celiac tests that I still need to be eating wheat and my doctor suggested that I not do that.
What happens if you get exposed to your allergens?
I only have a reaction when I ingest the foods. My stomach hurts really badly and my intestines are usually unhappy. I can sit in a bakery and have no issues at all.
How did you handle your wheat food allergy and intolerances in high school?
High school was an interesting experience. I was in the high school band for all four years. I kept trying to explain to my band director that it would be great to go to a restaurant that had a huge salad that I could eat and then I would have a few snacks when we got back to the hotel. I would at times sit in an Italian restaurant, because that is what the band director picked, and could not eat anything. I had found that even some Caesar dressings had wheat in them. It was a very frustrating event for me even though I knew I had snacks at the hotel.
Another experience that I had in high school was with the Colorado Springs Youth Symphony’s Pikes Peak Winds. I had the opportunity to go to Japan with them. I was really nervous at first. However, my mom helped me out by finding a translator that made little cards and sheets of paper with all the food that I could and could not eat. I went over there for about 11 days. There were some meals that had an unknown ingredient in them, and I decided that it would be a poor idea to eat it because I did not want to get sick. I brought little snacks in my suitcase so that if I did not eat a meal I could at least have a snack. I brought white rice crackers and apple sauce. Most of the kids on that trip watched out for me and helped me as much as possible. I lost a little bit of weight during the trip, but I was also really busy and had an amazing time. Food for me on that trip was definitely not the sole focus.
What is your experience of colleges’ awareness of food allergies?
Some Colleges’ awareness is surprisingly slim; at least that is what my experience has been. Though the University of Denver did an excellent job with accommodating me when I went to a Music Camp there. It was about a 2 week camp and an amazing experience. My mom got in touch with the head chef at the dining hall that we were going to be eating in. The chef had said that he could cook all of my food and I would not have to bring too much. We gave him a list of the foods I can and cannot eat. I came up with a menu for him to follow so at each mealtime, my meal would be ready. They made some of the best Turkey Burgers I have ever had. And the chef made some amazing sweet potato fries. Man oh man was it good. I did not get sick once, and they were truly very good at accommodating food allergies.
My experience at Colorado State University was a little different. At first they said that they would be able to accommodate my food allergies. Though they sent a menu for the week at band camp, and there truly was no way for that to occur. So I ended up bringing my own food that I had in my dorm room refrigerator. I would do all the band stuff at camp, and then I would come back and eat whatever food I had brought by heating it in the microwave. Many of the students were really jealous of the fact that I had so many different foods in the refrigerator and was wondering if they could have some. I said no, I was not trying to be rude, because I only had a certain amount for the week. Overall that was another good experience with food. What issues did you run into when looking at colleges in Colorado and their awareness of food allergies?
Well I found a few issues. At the University of Northern Colorado they had said that I could live in an apartment or I could live in the dorm and use the kitchen in the basement area. However there are many people who use that area to cook cookies and cupcakes. The last thing that I wanted was cross contamination within a meal that I was cooking. And there was a significant possibility that not everything is perfectly clean. So as wonderful as that had sounded, that didn’t seem to work for me. The apartment idea felt like too much to take on. It would be cooking and grocery shopping in addition to going to school at the beginning of entering college.
The other school that I was looking at was Colorado State University. They had stated that they could handle everything and anything. Though the more questions that I had asked with my food allergies, the more it became apparent that it might not be the best choice. They demanded that I live in the dorm, and their awareness was more about peanut allergies than celiac disease or other intolerances. They weren’t willing to change their menus for me – they just wanted me to find something to eat that was already on the menu and they weren’t good about listing ingredients in the foods.
Since you didn’t live in a dorm, what did you choose to do for living arrangements your freshman year of college? And now?
I chose for my freshman year to live at home because it seemed like a safe place to be. I was a little nervous moving out because of some of the experience I had in the past with people not necessarily understanding my food allergies. Though today I have moved out and live with one roommate in a house. He and I get along great. I have my food and he has his. I have one pan that I cook most of my food in, and he has his. It has worked out just perfectly.
How do you handle your food allergies now?
Today I eat probably about 99% of my meals at home. Probably about once every six months I will go out to P.F. Chang’s with friends because they have a gluten free menu. Though I know that most people my age have food always surround them. So instead I invite people over to my place and cook them a good meal, and then everyone is happy. Most people are surprised at how good Gluten free food really is.
Do you tell your dates about your food allergies? How do you go about doing that?
I do tell my dates about food allergies. At times they have wanted to go to a certain restaurant that I can’t eat anything at. They wonder why I can’t eat there so I explain what happens to me when I do eat wheat. Most of them understand and just want the best for me. Usually after that they let me pick the restaurant so that I know I am eating at a place that is fun and safe for me. My personal favorite is P.F. Changs!
Mom’s Comment: We have found that the colleges/universities that cost more in tuition are much more likely to have sound accommodations for students with food allergies. That doesn’t mean that a state university won’t make accommodations – but as in the case of offering an apartment as an alternative to dorm living, the alternative may not be easy for a college freshman to work with!
Carlo, how old are you and what are your allergies?
-I am 18 years old. I am allergic to Dairy, Wheat, Eggs, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Soy, Sesame, Fish, Shellfish, Most Fruits and Some Vegetables.
Have you ever experienced anaphylaxis?
-I have been very fortunate to have not ever experienced anaphylaxis.
Since you haven’t experienced anaphylaxis to your food allergens, how did you find out you were allergic to the foods you listed?
– My pediatrician was very good about food allergies and suggested to my parents that I get tested, when I was just a newborn, because he suspected that I was a person who was likely to have allergies.
What types of symptoms do you experience if you ingest your allergens? Have you ever experienced contact or inhalant reactions to any of the foods?
-I am anaphylactic to Dairy, Eggs, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Sesame, Fish and Shell Fish. Wheat is a gastro-intestinal reaction. Soy and some fruits and vegetables cause me to develop hives, throw up, feel my throat tingle, wheeze and symptoms such as that. I start to wheeze and cough if I’m in the same room as an egg being cracked. I haven’t had any major contact or inhalant reactions.
Do you still carry an EpiPen or two “just in case” ? How do you carry it?
-Yes, I always carry my EpiPen. It fits right in my pocket, no matter what I’m wearing (and I wear some tight, tight pants), so it’s not really a burden to carry it around.
You’re graduating from high school in a few months. Where do you plan on going to college?
–I’ll be attending the University of Chicago next year.
Did your food allergies play a part in your choice of a college?
–No, my food allergies didn’t play a part in choosing a college. I applied to the colleges that I wanted to go to and was confident that I could make it work.
How are you planning on managing your food allergies in college? Will you live in the dorm or in another living arrangement?
–I’ll be living in a dorm. I’m going to sit down with the Dining Services and talk over my allergies and what they’re capable of doing. When I was touring UChicago I had a meal in the dining room, and they have all the allergens labeled and all the ingredients displayed, for every dish, so I’m confident that I’ll be able to manage my food allergies well and eat in the dining halls.
I’m so impressed that the University of Chicago labels all of their food ingredients in the cafeteria! Did other colleges/universities that you debated attending do the same thing? Or is UChicago special in this way?
-A lot of the schools I considered attending did the same thing, or had something similar. I’ve found that, because there are so many different special diets that people follow, college dining services are very on top of disseminating what goes into their foods and making sure that there isn’t any cross contact–a fact just as important to a strict vegan as someone with major allergies. In the past I’ve attended programs on college campuses and I can say that the dining staffs have been nothing short of great about managing my allergies.
Do you tell your dates about your food allergies? How do you go about doing that?
– I’ve found that being honest and straightforward is the best way to go. A lot of dates/get togethers happen at restaurants or somewhere where there is food anyways, so it’s not as if you can avoid the topic. Mostly, though, people already know, because if you’re friends with me (which comes before dating), you’ve almost certainly been at a meal with me. Normally, when I meet new people and they have a meal with me, I explain it to them, because they get curious after seeing me ask questions to the waiter/chef and have such plain, sparse meals.