One of the biggest challenges cafeteria workers face is dealing with food allergies.
People can react to many different types of food. These foods include eggs, shellfish, dairy, gluten, soy, peanuts, tree nuts and various fruits.
Peanut and tree nut allergies are especially problematic when handling bakery items. With a nut allergy, it is hard to tell if there are peanuts or tree nuts in certain baked goods.
“We do not put nuts in baked goods,” said Ruth Ann Giamo, culinary manager at Metz Culinary Management.
Pete Mannarelli, general manager of Metz, said he has seen an increase in the number of students with food allergies.
“Eight to nine years ago, you would hear of maybe one student with food allergies,” Mannarelli said. “Today there are more students with allergies. Maybe doctors are more aware.”
The Metz staff is trying to add more allergy-friendly options.
“We try to expand as much as we can,” Mannarelli said.
There are some allergy-friendly options on Gannon University’s campus. Giamo said there are gluten-free desserts as well as soy milk available in the cafeteria.
In addition, to the cafeteria, Knight’s Cove and Doc’s Landing have some allergy-friendly foods. Knight’s offers gluten-free wraps and corn tortillas, while Doc’s Landing provides grilled chicken sandwiches on gluten-free bread.
At Knight’s Cove, a sign tells customers which food items contain gluten. Similar signs in the cafeteria say if an item is gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan.
Avoiding allergens seems like an easier task than it is. In food services across the nation, some cooks think taking a burger off a bun will make a burger gluten-free. However, reactions can happen anywhere.
Sarah Rich, a freshman nursing major, used to be gluten-free. She said she worked at Subway and people forgot to change their gloves all the time.
Marc Rycek, a Metz cafeteria chef, said most of the allergic reactions he has seen at other food suppliers come from cross contamination. To avoid causing an allergic reaction, he said, he uses different knives to cut different food items and he changes gloves when he has to deal with allergies.
“Being able to see the signs and the food will let you know if the food is going to trigger a reaction,” said Conor Grey, a senior pre-med major who is lactose-intolerant. “If you’re unsure, then just ask. It never hurts.”