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Food Allergies and College Living

supermom2supermom2 Registered User Posts: 12 New Member
Does anyone have ideas to manage multiple food allergies at college? My son has severe multiple allergies and wants to go to Virginia Tech which is about 5 hours from our home. Welcome tips and experiences on how to manage the food situation. He also has Asthma, do you think we should request an air-conditioned dorm room as part of the SSD request?

Replies to: Food Allergies and College Living

  • TooOld4SchoolTooOld4School Registered User Posts: 2,852 Senior Member
    Most colleges have a good handle on allergies these days, especially the common ones (peanuts, tree nuts, gluten) but if your son has severe multiple allergies you will need to work closely with the cafeteria staff and housing to get a roommate that will not bring allergens into the room. Most importantly, he will have to actively seek out information and make the contacts himself since you will not be there. Also make sure his roommate, RA, etc. are advised on an allergy action plan should he become incapacitated. Have you spoken with your allergist? Ours had a series of handouts and plans for navigating college.

    Your son will also have to learn to avoid foods from lesser known manufacturers, we have seen multiple instances of anaphylaxis from baked /vending machine goods that were not labeled correctly.

    If the college is not able to comply with reasonable safety precautions, I'd select a different one.
  • david6kdavid6k Registered User Posts: 7 New Member
    Hadn't looked back at this thread in a while and didn't realize the discussion was continuing without me. @compmom - I realize what you are saying here, but I think an important element is the student's personality and assertiveness. If you have a child that is likely to be a strong advocate, then your approach may make more sense. OTOH, if your child is less assertive and more likely to just suffer in silence, then careful screening, as @Rivet2000 suggests, is important.
  • compmomcompmom Registered User Posts: 8,367 Senior Member
    I have one with celiac (and type 1 diabetes) and one with food allergies. In both cases, I accompanied them to a meeting with the chef and food staff. Each college is a little different. Many have lists of ingredients that are quite reliable, at the food sites, and one had a big book with recipes that was online. Both colleges offered personal e-mails to communicate with food services. Food can be ordered in advance and cooked separately to avoid cross-contamination. One school had safe French Fries separate from others. So as far as the dining hall, it really should be okay. But call or e-mail and arrange a meeting at the school, and in this case, although I stayed out of everything else, I did attend the meeting and the staff seemed anxious to make me feel safe and reassured.

    Interesting about having a roommate avoid bringing allergens in the room. That is a great point TooOld4School! A single room is a reasonable thing to ask for, too , but if he wants a roommate, housing could help with that with the help of the disabilities office.

    My three kids have asthma that is actually worsened by air conditioning. Everyone is different! Whatever helps your son is reasonable. He could bring his own air purifier.

    Is carpeting a problem? Cleaning supplies?

    I disagree on one point. If a college says they are not able to comply with reasonable safety precautions, and it is a school your son wants to go to, I would advocate so he could attend. But that's a personal decision. I feel that the rights of kids with challenges are improved each time a school learns more. But with food allergies, there really has been a lot of progress and staff is most likely fully trained.
  • momofthreeboysmomofthreeboys Registered User Posts: 15,437 Senior Member
    Most of the "big"unis have done a good job with the cafeterias and student eating issues. But I agree if those allergies are not food related, he should be open with the school about what he'll need in terms of dorming. If the food allergens are so acute he can't be in a room with a roommate eating peanut M&Ms (or whatever) that would be something he should also discuss with the college. Think of it this way, he may be dealing with those same allergens when he leaves college for the workforce if they are still impacting him at 18.
  • happy1happy1 Registered User Posts: 18,539 Senior Member
    Talk to his doctors about suggestions and then talk to the Office of Disabilities at his college. Find out types of accommodations you want (including a/c) and ask the school what documentation you need for them to provide it. It can all be dealt with but it is much easier to get it all in order before he sets foot on campus. Also be sure the school medical center knows as well and if there is anything they need to keep on campus for him or anything he will need refilled while on campus a system should be arranged in advance for that as well.

    Someone in my D's dorm has an airborne fish allergy and everyone is respectful and it seems to be fine for him.
  • supermom2supermom2 Registered User Posts: 12 New Member
    Thank you all for your tips and insights! We have been visiting the various campuses and meeting with the registered dietician and the chef from dining services. But despite all their labeling they still were not able to say with confidence there will be no cross contamination. He has peanut, all tree nuts, fish, shellfish, lobster, crab, sesame, egg, chickpeas. He overcame the milk allergy last week, so that is a huge relief. We have an egg challenge in April, since he has been on baked eggs for a few months now. My biggest concern is the food gets cross contaminated and especially for nuts, sesame and fish his allergies are very high. I hope his roommate is accommodating, most colleges said they cannot pair him based on his allergies. Going to Virginia Tech this weekend, will update. Thanks all!
  • janjmomjanjmom Registered User Posts: 230 Junior Member
    edited March 2016
    There's a person who specializes in this. She has a database of colleges and what they do for food allergies, etc. I believe she may have a book coming out soon on this topic. You can find info at allergyfriendlycolleges.com
  • ordinarylivesordinarylives Registered User Posts: 2,898 Senior Member
    You'll need documentation, although it should be fairly simple. The food will be a lot easier than the AC. LOTS of kids have asthma. I doubt very much any school could accommodate them all with single, air-conditioned rooms. So, you'll need to be able to prove a level of severity above the norm. My own D hadn't had a window open in her bedroom for 6 years. She's an allergy trigger. Had to keep the pollen out of her sleeping area. She was so well controlled, she'd been dismissed from the allergist and sent back to the family doctor, that is until she went to college. Even with AC, roommates open windows, the pollen gets in...ugh.

    And if food allergies are so severe he can't be in the same room with an allergen, you may want to rethink going away to college. Even if the caf can serve allergen-free dishes (and most are really good about it), there will be students in the dining hall eating allergen filled fare. Or there might be a kid next to him in class munching on peanut butter.

    I have seen students allowed to not be on a meal plan as an accommodation if the dining services can't accommodate or have problems with cross-contamination.
  • foodallergygurufoodallergyguru Registered User Posts: 2 New Member
    Please get the facts about food allergy management on college campuses by visiting allergyfriendlycolleges.com from a college planning expert. She is also a FA mom and has extensive experience and expertise in this area.
  • MotherOfDragonsMotherOfDragons Registered User Posts: 3,956 Senior Member
    edited March 2016
    I have a kid with a peanut allergy, and one year at Duke Tip her roommate would constantly eat peanut snacks in the room. It was a nightmare for D (although she didn't tell me about it until afterwards). Her rag group leader told the other girl not to eat peanut products in the room, but the other girl ignored it. My D asked to be moved to a room that had been vacated by a kid who had left, and was told that wasn't possible. The roommate became malicious about it and would deliberately smear peanut butter on handles and washcloths in the room hoping to get D to have a reaction because she said she was "faking it".

    It was a bummer summer for her being scared that she was going to react the whole time. I wish she had told me because I would have come down on the people at TiP like a hammer, but she wanted to handle by herself. The next year (her last year) on the roommate request form she specifically and clearly detailed her issues with the previous roommate and asked for one with any sort of food allergy. She got one and had a much better year, because they were sensitive and aware of each other's needs.

    So, yeah. Ask for a roommate who has food allergies, even if they're not the same as your kid's food allergies.
  • momofthreeboysmomofthreeboys Registered User Posts: 15,437 Senior Member
    Did she have a major reaction from anything the malicious roommate did? If not, that's a good thing because I know in the workplace kitchens, at least the companies I've worked at, peanut butter is pretty much a lunch staple.
  • compmomcompmom Registered User Posts: 8,367 Senior Member
    Many doctors aren't great with this kind of thing, even the really good ones. For accommodations through the disabilities office, I did research and listed possible accommodations in the body of a letter for the MD to sign. He appreciated not having to do it. That said, food allergies are more common even then they were 8 years ago and some offices may have a list of accommodations already.

    I think requesting a single room might be easier than trying to get a roommate who is willing to forego foods, or maybe that question can be asked of potential roommies.

    Shrimp is in a lot of sauces unfortunately.

    I think that legally they have to say they cannot guarantee no cross-contamination. It may not mean there is real danger, but taking care with choices it key.

    I am assuming that your son has an Epi-pen. Has he ever used it? Does he use inhaled steroids for seasonal and indoor allergies?
  • MotherOfDragonsMotherOfDragons Registered User Posts: 3,956 Senior Member
    @momofthreeboys , no, she didn't have any reactions from the roommate. She's very careful. If the peanuts touch her skin it causes rashes and blistering but she's good about hand-washing so she managed to avoid any reactions. People who don't deal with food allergies either directly or within the family really don't understand how tough it is to deal with. Luckily she doesn't have asthma, and the reactions to peanuts so far have not been catastrophically anaphylactic, so we're hoping that some of the peanut allergy Tx on the horizon can work for her (like the patch).

    She understands the world is not peanut-free, and we keep peanut butter in the house, but the roommate was a total jerk about it-that's the important take-away in my story.

    Younger D also mentions that she's food-allergy aware on the TIP forms in case they need to pair her with a kid with allergies, which I think is thoughtful of her. She doesn't have food allergies, but sees what her older sister goes through and is very aware of what's ok and what's not.
  • billcshobillcsho Registered User Posts: 16,767 Senior Member
    Talk to that school directly. This isvone of the FAQ during college visits. Every school we have visited have well thought about that already. Some have menu with ingredient online and made allergen free items every meal. One even would prepare a meal specifically to meet the need.
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