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Students react to cross contamination

Founders strives to provide options for students. (Marisa Tangeman)
Founders strives to provide options for students. (Marisa Tangeman)

Despite offering a variety of options to try to cater to students’ varying dietary needs, including vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free, some Mills students have found themselves having allergic reactions to food at Founders Commons.

Though it is Founders’ policy to accommodate students with all dietary needs, some students with dietary restrictions have run into issues.

Junior Danni Anderson is one student who struggles with the dietary options available at Mills. Anderson has a vocal chord dysfunction, which causes their airway to swell and cut off their air supply when it comes in contact with certain substances. Anderson’s biggest food sensitivity is pepper, which can be found in many dishes at Founders.

“Pepper is a pretty common ingredient, so I can’t fault [Founders] on that,” Anderson said.

Founders does however offer other entrees if students approach the chef or a supervisor and request something to fit their diet restrictions, Founders manager Crystal Chun Wong said. According to Wong, there are only a few students who are vocal about whether or not they need an alternative to what is offered.  People with sensitivities to seasonings will often ask for plain chicken breasts, while vegan or non-cheese eating students can request pizzas without cheese.

“The students do know that it will take a little bit longer for their food to be made, but they can be sure that if they ask for it that they’ll be able to get it,” Wong said.

While Anderson is appreciative of the efforts Founders makes at including people with dietary restrictions, they still believe their options are limited. Currently they use only half of their meals up at Founders and have few choices at the Tea Shop to avoid seasonings because much of the food there uses pepper.

“Food at Mills has probably been the most frustrating thing on campus [for me],” Anderson said.

Anderson did manage to work with the former Student Access and Support Services’ (SASS) director Gabriella Tempestoso to try to accommodate their allergy. Currently, Anderson has the ability to use meal points at the Tea Shop and also has access to a community microwave in the dorms. Despite these accommodations, Anderson is still required to pay the full price for the meal plan that is mandatory for all students with dorm housing.

Even with her frustrations, Anderson says it is less stressful than it could be, because people at Founders are understanding and make attempts to accommodate their allergy.

“It’s good to know that if you talk to them, the option is there,” Anderson said.

According to Chef Cynthia Motta, Founders has completely eliminated the use of any type of nuts in all forms of cooking, eliminating the possibility of cross-contamination in entrees. Wong states that the only places that nuts might be found in Founders is through peanut butter and pastries.

None of the pastries are made in-house due to lack of necessary facilities for baking. Because pastries are bought from an offsite bakery, Founders has no way to monitor the possibility of cross contamination. The staff at Founders work to label everything extensively so that people know about the possibility that the pastries came into contact with nut products.

“[Pastries] would be a majority, if not all, of the allergens,” Wong said.

Senior Kiley Cloud has experienced problems firsthand with the pastries served at Founders. Cloud, who has an allergy to tree nuts, has had multiple minor incidents with Rice Krispie treats and other items that have caused their face and mouth to swell up in reaction. They find it concerning that Founders and the Tea Shop use an offsite baker where there is so much potential for cross contamination in the food they end up serving to students.

Like Anderson, Cloud appreciates the support Founders and the Tea Shop offer, but they would like to see changes made as well.

“I think it would be helpful if the gluten free area was expanded to have a nut free area,” Cloud said. “I’ve toured other universities and they had allergen free areas that included dairy and nuts and gluten.”

Cloud also suggested the possibility of having two separate dessert areas, one where pastries include nuts and others that are completely nut free.

Wong and Motta both say the best way to communicate what students want to eat is through the comment cards that can be found in both Founders and the Tea Shop. They also welcome any questions about the options available to students on the dining plan at Mills.