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Acknowledging the risk of food allergies at Hubbell

Who knew a trip to the emergency room three days after I moved in would be a roommate bonding experience?

I have severe food allergies to dairy, eggs and melons. I’ve carried an EpiPen auto-injector since birth in the event that I eat something I shouldn’t.

Like many others, my food allergies make a trip to Hubbell risky as I browse the stations looking for something safe to eat. A meal as basic as pasta with marinara sauce and a side salad turned out to be a recipe for disaster on Aug. 26.

I’ve lived with food allergies my whole life. I’ve been in the routine of bringing my own snacks to class, providing my own dessert at birthday parties and politely declining many edible rewards. Despite being a minor inconvenience, it’s always on my mind.

Before I put anything in my mouth, I have to check the ingredients for triggers of my allergies. Sometimes my constant vigilance still isn’t enough. This was the case when suspected cross contamination caused a comfort food to become a danger.

Not even an hour after leaving the dining hall, I was sticking myself with my EpiPen, and my roommates were calling my parents to inform them I was being transported via ambulance to the local emergency room.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, about 32 million Americans have food allergies. That’s 10 percent of adults in the United States.

When Hubbell serves close to 1,500 Drake community members every day, that means 150 people walk through the doors worried about what’s going into their meals.

Even more are avoiding ingredients for personal reasons. For me, it’s a “life choice” that I don’t want to visit the ER.

When I explain my inability to eat dairy to others, they assume I’m just lactose intolerant. It’s different for me. Upset stomach and vomiting versus throat closing and risk of death.

Now, this article isn’t an attack on Hubbell. The staff is doing great work to protect students and provide plenty of options.

Resident Drake dietician Samantha Matt informed me about steps Hubbell is taking to keep students safe and healthy.

“Hubbell has a dedicated allergen-free station called Simple Servings,” Matt said. “[It] is separate from other stations and has its own dedicated utensils, equipment, and storage areas in order to reduce risk of cross-contact with allergens.”

Matt also offered her assistance to students who are concerned about finding safe meals in the dining hall. She was very helpful with my own concerns my first year.

Based on my suggestion, the staff recently rearranged the salad bar so common allergies are on one side of the divider and vegetables the other. I hope they will continue to monitor other concerns such as making sure digital menus match what’s being served.

Hubbell diners can help out their fellow students by watching themselves at self-serve stations. Simple actions can prevent an emergency for their peers.

I’m asking for others to watch what they’re doing when they serve themselves in the dining hall. Put spoons back where you found them. Don’t mix vegetables at the salad bar. Clean up the table when you leave. Be kind to others.

Taking a little time out of your day to prevent cross-contamination could prevent someone’s time being spent in the emergency room.

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