Colleges work to meet needs of students with allergies

Dining services departments take a hands-on approach to ensure food safety.

TORONTO, ONTARIO—When her son David Parkinson was a little boy with allergies to seven different foods, Susan Leavitt shuddered at the thought of him leaving home one day to go to university. The idea of a young man at risk for anaphylaxis eating mass-prepared food in a huge dining hall alongside hundreds of students seemed unfathomable.

“I hope he gets into NYU or Columbia, there’s no way he’s going to leave New York,” she recalls thinking. But as David grew up and learned to take responsibility for his allergies, both mother and son gained confidence. When he first entered university, Susan knew that her son could live on campus and manage his allergies – that is, provided the food services staff could be relied on to do their part.

As it turned out, could they ever. At the University of Delaware, David had the honor of having his meals prepared by the university’s executive chef of catering. The two would meet to go over the menu for the week ahead: what was being made, what David wanted, and how they could make it work for him. David could even call ahead and let the kitchen know when he would arrive. The chef was so mindful of David’s needs that he insisted the freshman promise to only eat food directly from the kitchen. One time, David broke that rule and was eating something from a self-serve area. A staff member came rushing over to scold: “Where did you get that!?”