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Dining labels spark student concern

Ben Robertson (‘25) said he suffered repeated allergic reactions after eating food at the Marketplace in the Cornell Campus Center, which was labeled as free of certain ingredients and cross-contamination. Dining Services responded by increasing labeling as well as staff training.

“I have an allergy to eggs and tree nuts, and there have been multiple occasions where on the little cards that they put out listing the major allergens that they omit an allergen, and then I eat the food item and I get really sick,” Robertson said. “They are forgetting to put pertinent allergy information on the cards they put out.” 

“Dining Services was aware of this situation and we addressed it right away with the staff, the affected student, and his parents,” said Cristina Cabanilla, director of Dining Services. 

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America reports that roughly 10 percent of adults have at least one food allergy. Food-based allergic reactions can range from mild and moderate symptoms such as swelling, wheezing, and vomiting to severe reactions, including anaphylaxis.

Over the course of this academic year, Robertson has witnessed allergen mislabeling occur multiple times. 

“It’s happened to me more than five [times],” Robertson said. 

In fall 2020, multiple students reported mislabeling of foods, as well as dietary based reactions due to allergies and intolerances. At that time, dining services responded by increasing signage at the dining hall alerting students when allergens were present in certain dishes. 

Cabanilla said that the incident with Robertson was the only incident reported to Dining Services this semester. The issue, however, occurred as recently as Fall 2021 when Carolina Ossa, marketing manager of Dining Services, said that “there have been a few instances when students have identified or helped identify discrepancies in labels. Generally, this happens when an individual preparing the item deviates from the recipe. We have had instances of this and the staff responsible for deviating was reprimanded.”

Despite these incidents, Rollins dining has received a silver medal from the Loyal E. Horton Dining Awards from the National Association of College & University Food Services (NACUFS) as well as an A+ rating from PETA for its inclusive vegan and allergy-conscious options.

In response to Robertson’s reports of allergen mislabeling and allergic reactions, the Dining Services team has taken action and added extra layers of safety precautions within the Marketplace. 

“Individuals working this station are trained and that training is reinforced; specifically, they must stay alert on what information to include, then the server and cooks attending the station must double check that all the information is accurate,” Cabanilla said.

As an added precaution, a manager walks around to check each station at the dining hall in order to confirm that the information on all food safety labels is accurate.

All Dining Services workers also go through extensive training regarding allergens and cross-contamination.

“At the beginning of the semester, every Dining Services associate must complete a food allergy training called AllerTrain with our regional dietitian,” Cabanilla said. “Every day before we open for service, we conduct a pre-service meeting where we discuss topics on how to be safe in our industry, including allergies, cross-contamination, and other safety matters.”

The issue of allergen labeling on campus is not limited just to the Marketplace in the Cornell Campus Center. Students with dietary restrictions require ingredient information at all dining establishments. 

“I cannot find ingredient lists or anything for things like Fox Lodge or Dave’s [Boathouse],” Robertson said. “They give me very vague answers when I ask about allergens. […] I would like to see an ingredients list for Dave’s.”

The issue extends to Rollins online ordering systems as well, which do not include extensive ingredient or nutrition information, nor an option that allows students to alert staff of their allergens or food sensitivities. 

“I would also like to see an allergen alert feature on the mobile ordering system so that we can inform workers of our allergens so they can take the proper precautions in order to ensure our safety,” said Kenzi Cook (‘25), who also has food-based allergies. 

Students with allergen concerns are advised to dine at the Simple Servings station, which guarantees avoidance of seven of the eight main food allergens. The one allergen that is sometimes included at the station is fish.

 If you need to report mislabeled food or an allergic reaction, please contact any Dining Services associate.

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