One of the other individuals I have had the pleasure of interviewing for this project is Mr. Joel Schaefer. Mr. Schaefer also served as a co-chair on the committee that wrote the Pilot Guidelines for Managing Food Allergies in Higher Education with FARE. I am grateful to Mr. Schaefer for giving his time to answer a few questions for this project. He was simply wonderful to be in contact with and is passionate about the cause of making colleges safer for students with food allergies - thank you Mr. Schaefer!
Mr. Schaefer has spent much of his career dedicated to learning about food allergies and other dietary restrictions and works to educate others regarding what he has learned. Mr. Schaefer, along with his wife Mary, works as a consult with FARE, writes magazine articles for Allergic Living Magazine, and continues to develop new recipes for those with special diets. As he put it, "Since we both have specific food sensitivities and need to watch what we eat, it is only logical we create the ultimate recipes that everyone in the family will enjoy." He also wrote a book entitled "Serving People with Food Allergies, Kitchen Management and Menu Creation."
I asked Mr. Schaefer what led him to serve on the committee to develop the FARE Collegiate Pilot Guidelines, and he cited a few reasons, including his previous work as a consultant with FARE, his work with FARE on the creation of the National Restaurant Association Allergen Training Program, and due to the fact that, at the time the Guidelines were developed, he was the executive chef at Concordia University. This experience made Mr. Schaefer a perfect fit to serve on the committee. Schaefer says, "I had first-hand knowledge of the challenges that faced both students and the food service operations"
I continued with a question about what he believed were the biggest issues and challenges facing college campuses as they seek to manage food allergies. His response highlights the fact that food allergies are truly an emerging issue on higher education campuses, and that the numbers of students with dietary needs is contiually rising. Schaefer responded, "There is a continued rise in students with food allergies and special diets, so managing these special requests while serving hundreds and in some cases thousands of other students at the same time can be hard. While at Concordia University, the number of students with special diets rose from 5 to 25 in one year. That doesn’t seem like much, but in a small kitchen with minimal staff, it is a challenge to make food safely in a timely manner for them." Schaefer also mentioned the constantly changing schedule of the typical college student, and that it is difficult for the kitchen to be ready for students upon arrival when they do not communicate these changes. Food allergy management is truly a team effort, and the student must be a member of that team and assist the individuals trying to help them.
Schaefer laid out a four-step process that be feels dining services need to take to ensure the safety of students with food allergies:
a. First, there needs to be communication with school departments that have the
information about these students, so nothing is missed.
b. Designate specific staff members to handle the process.
c. Get the proper training and continue the training annually.
d. Create special menus that meet multiple food allergies and create a designated
prep and cooking area to ensure the food is safe.
Finally, I wanted to know how policies and accommodations are handled in the relationship between the university and contracted food service vendors. I was unaware prior to interviewing Mr. Schaefer about how exactly this got handled. Schaefer states, "Because of specific privacy laws, some information is not available to the food service provider. This can be a challenge since students don’t need to declare this information or can keep it private, which makes no sense since the sharing of information can be lifesaving." He went on to say, "There must be a good relationship between the university and food service provider (FSP) to make this work. This is not always the case, as sometimes the FSP isn’t aware of students with food allergies or special diets and can be surprised one day with special dietary requests that they are not prepared to accommodate."
In all of the interviews I have conducted and the research I have done, it truly seems that communication and self-identification is the first and most important key to successful food allergy management. I know this to be true as I have managed the allergies of my soon-to-be 5-year-old! One of my most (if not the most) important roles I have as a food allergy parent is to do the legwork to identify my son as a child/student with food allergies for all of his caregivers and ensure that each and every meal is provided and safe. But I also understand, even more now, that the other thing I must do is TEACH my child to do this for himself as gets older, and to make sure that he is equipped to do for himself then what I do for him now. In this case, the "caregivers" are the folks at the university trying to take care of and manage food allergy care for students; they cannot do this job well if students do not communicate and self-identify.
Thank you, Mr. Schaefer, for your passionate work in this field - I am proud to have interviewed a difference maker in our community!!
My name is Brittany Dye, and I am a food allergy mom and a graduate student in higher education administration at Middle Tennessee State University. These two parts of my world have collided, and I am passionate about successful food allergy management in higher education.