This past February, we hosted our second Food Allergy Symposium for Industry (FASI). This was hosted in conjunction with Unilever Food Solutions at their North America headquarters. In attendance were food service professionals from across the country that represented 250+ college campuses. Each person in attendance is passionate about safely serving diners with food allergies, intolerances, sensitivities, and celiac disease. Everyone came with the goal of meeting like-minded individuals and learning tips and tricks about best practices for doing so.
The session was designed specifically to be both educational and collaborative. FASI kicked off with a bang when Mary Vargas, one of the leading food allergy attorneys in the country, spoke about food allergy lawsuits. She announced that just one day prior she filed suit against The University of Maryland. The case revolved around a student with celiac disease who became ill multiple times while dining on campus. Mary brought her incredible background and knowledge of food allergy law to the group. The information she shared was incredibly valuable to everyone in attendance.
I was struck by the knowledge and compassion that the college representatives showed with their questions. It gave me great hope for the generation of students heading off to college.said Mary C. Vargas, Esquire: Stein & Vargas, LLC.
Throughout the day, the attendees heard from industry professionals about a variety of topics. Everything from the incredible health benefits of drinking tea to a full step by step presentation on how to create a “Certified Free From™” dining venue, section, or area were covered.
- Dr. Joy Dubost PhD, RD, LDN, the Head of Nutrition and Health for Unilever North America
- Kelsey Patterson, the registered dietician for Michigan State University
- Ruth Sullivan, MSED, RDN, CDN at Syracuse University
- Beth Winthrop, MS, RD food allergy specialist with AllerTrain
In addition to sessions presented to the group, there were a variety of table discussions led by industry professionals. These were designed to allow small group conversations that specifically related to the needs of the attendees. Topics ranged from allergen labeling and social media communication to managing student needs and technology for food allergies. Guests selected what best suited their needs and met in small groups to discuss those topics in depth.
For lunch, Chef Rob Wallauer from Unilever presented a chef demo. He and his team also cooked a delicious meal free from the top 8 allergens. The meal highlighted unique ways to prepare an allergen free Caesar salad and delicious rich brownies free from the top 8. The chef demo also included a discussion where attendees asked specific questions about preparation and recipes.
The day flowed seamlessly and everyone in attendance walked away having learned something new that applied to their positions. We were confident that the sessions and day was extremely beneficial and collected surveys to hear how those in attendance felt. After dissecting the feedback we received, we were able to pinpoint some main takeaways from the day.
- “Impactful, extremely appropriate, I wish we could have her present to our CEO” (regarding Mary Vargas’ presentation about food allergy law)
- “Always good to have something fresh” (regarding Dr. Dubost’s presentation about tea)
- “After FASI, I really want to implement more allergen policies!”
- “The real case studies were extremely eye opening” (regarding Ruth Sullivan and Beth Winthrop’s (MS, RD) presentation titled “step by step before and after an incident”)
The overall feedback was that FASI is essential for everyone in attendance and should expand to two days. The importance of bringing together decision-making professionals from the industry to discuss food allergies is paramount. The rise in students going to college asking about special dietary requests and looking to campuses who are proactively keeping diners safe has grown tremendously in recent years. FASI 2.0 was an incredible testament to those in the industry who not only care about keeping diners safe but are actively seeking out best practices to do so.
Many campuses have trained their team through AllerTrain™ (using many of our courses including manager, lite, U, K12, etc.). Others have gone so far as to create allergy-free stations on campus. A select few have completely created allergy free dining halls. These stations, areas, and dining halls are doing their due diligence and getting certified from Kitchens with Confidence. Whatever the size of the campus or program is, paying close attention to safely feeding guests is vital. We look forward to hosting more FASI sessions in the future and are grateful to work with so many passionate individuals, companies, and campuses around the country.