PB&J sandwich: more concerns for food allergies on campus?

| Staff Reporter
A classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Students are concerned about the addition of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the menu on the South 40 due to possiblity of contamination for students with peanut allergies. (James F. Quinn | Chicago Tribune)

A classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Students are concerned about the addition of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the menu on the South 40 due to possiblity of contamination for students with peanut allergies. (James F. Quinn | Chicago Tribune)

For students who eat at the South 40 sandwich bar, most will likely notice the new sign posted above the counter indicating that peanut butter and jelly sandwich is now a new made-to-order option. While this may be a moment for those PB&J sandwich lovers out there to rejoice, it can turn out to be a nightmare for those with peanut allergy.

“Food allergies have always been an area of focus for us with employee training being a constant, but this year we decided to do more,” said Connie Diekman, the University’s nutrition director.

All the chefs serving food on campus hold biweekly nutritional meetings with Diekman and according to campus Executive Chef Robert Flowers, the topic of dealing with food allergies on campus has been the main focus for the past month.

“We have taken it so seriously that we have collaboratively designed a training program that we are currently relaying to our culinary and front of the house staff,” Flowers said. “The training is being discussed at our pre-shift meetings all around campus, and once we train the staff they take a quiz just to ensure that the information has been translated to them in an efficient manner.”

These meetings provide employees with the skills necessary to prevent allergic reactions from the cooking of food in the dining areas.

“The food allergy piece [of the biweekly meetings] involves how to better train employees, what materials would be most helpful, and how do we ‘test’ their knowledge,” Diekman said. “We have used case studies with the staff to demonstrate how problems can occur, and then had them identify how to prevent the problems. Chef Robert did a demo and asked [the] managers to identify all potential ‘errors’ he was committing.”

In order to keep food allergy to a minimum on campus, the Dining Services staff has been trained on how to properly clean, sanitize and reuse all materials related to the production of food on campus. According to Diekman, allergy training will continue to be a part of the regular daily trainings for the dining services staff.

“I have seen the chefs at the sandwich bar using the same knife to cut different sandwiches,” sophomore Kieran Holzhauer said. “If I am allergic to peanut and the person before me ordered a PB&J sandwich, does that mean that I can no longer eat at the sandwich bar?”

In response to that concern, Flowers promptly provided a solution.

“Also after researching a little regarding the sandwich station issue, I have spoken to the chef of the South 40, Gary Suarez,” Flowers said. “He will be holding a training session just for the sandwich station to ensure that the proper protocol will be followed, primarily having a special knife just for the PB&J sandwiches.”

Dining Services at Washington University takes the food allergy issue very seriously. Students have the option to view the ingredients for the food served on campus at the Dining Services Web site. In addition, there are also icons on the menus to mark key allergens.

“Students on campus should let us know of their needs so we can help them find what they enjoy and what they can eat,” Diekman said. “I encourage all students with allergies to meet with me so we can review the limitations and how to meet nutritional needs. After this meeting, I take the student to meet with the chefs in the areas where they will dine and then together we review the options.”