Philbrook launches innovative allergy-free station
Published: Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 01:09
Staff in Philbrook Dining Hall decided they wanted to be the best when it came to offering allergy-free foods. So far, the new allergy-free station is the first of its kind in the nation.
The prepared foods do not contain the eight most common food allergies: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybean. It also excludes gluten.
Not only is the station the first of its kind in the nation, but it is also attracting attention from other institutions that are curious. Brandon Crosby, Philbrook area manager, said that he is getting calls from San Diego State University.
“Some colleges are doing this sort of thing,” Rochelle L’Italien, UNH dietitian, said. “There’s one in particular that’s getting a lot of press. What they’re doing – they have their own station but what we do differently is [we exclude red meat] and they also serve fish, but we’re like, we can do that. We can do that better. We can do all eight allergens and gluten.”
Crosby explained that there are several reasons why the station is unlike anything else.
“What kind of makes it one of the first of its kind is not only is it gluten plus the eight allergens,” Crosby said, “but it’s open to the public, meaning it’s not in a closed room.”
L’Italien said that most people predicted an allergy-free station would have abnormal foods in it. But, she said, the station offers food that looks like it would come from home.
“Most of the recipes were designed to have less than five or six ingredients,” David Hill, area manager for Holloway Commons, said. “So, it’s more of a ‘made-from-scratch’ kind of concept where food is narrowly more healthful; it doesn’t have a lot of additives, preservatives, that kind of thing, as well.”
Based on a report from L’Italien, the station offers whole food items: a protein entrée, vegetable, grain, a soup, vegetarian chili and two salads.
According to Hill, there are a growing number of allergy concerns on campus. Catering to one special diet does not mean another person will be able to eat the same foods. Crosby learned that from a dining guest.
“We’re one of the top schools in the country for gluten-free,” Crosby said. “And that’s wonderful, and when I was first here, a mother yelled at me. She said, ‘You know, it’s great what you do for gluten-free, but if my son has a nut, he’s going to die.’ And that’s really stuck with me.”
Crosby explained that there is an online order form for students with allergies to submit so that they can have a prepared meal of their choice. The program was initially for gluten-free students, but people with different allergies have used the program over the years.
However, Crosby says that in general, he finds students are happy with the allergy-free station.
“Ordering off the allergy-free guide is nice but it reduces that flexibility that students have,” Crosby said. “We get a lot of orders on the website still, but I’m finding more and more are just happy with the allergy stations because [they] don’t have to wait for someone to bring [them] a plate. You know, so it doesn’t keep it anonymous but less of a fuss.”
At the end of May, Executive Chef Todd Sweet joined the team in time for the allergy-free station implementation. Before Sweet came to UNH, he worked at the Portsmouth Brewery, where he worked with specialty diets such as vegan and gluten-free.
Sweet worked alongside Hill this past summer to get ideas about what the new station would offer people.
“Todd and I had a very stressful summer writing recipes,” Hill said.
Sweet and Hill were not sure how many people would be interested in the station after the summer, but Sweet says the demand has steadily increased.
According to feedback attained by UNH dietetics interns, Kathryn Nelson and Jessica Geist, all types of students enjoy the new station.
“[It’s] phenomenal,” Taylor Warren, a student with celiac disease, said. “[There’s a] fresh meal waiting for you every day that you don’t have to order.”
The allergy-free station replaced the vegan station, but Eyob Demeke, a vegan, does not seem to mind.
“I like the station better this year than last year even though it was vegan last year,” Demeke said.
Vegan foods are still offered in the station, and Crosby added an extra vegan entrée in another section of the dining hall.
To avoid cross-contamination, Crosby purchased a few items to prepare for the fall 2013 semester.
“I bought all new equipment for that station to make sure there were no remnants from allergens,” Crosby said. “New steamer, new stoves, grill.”