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Gwen Smith: From the Editor's Desk

2013: From Tragedy to Allergy Accommodations

Situations like this also encourage institutions to act of their own accord. By summer, as Allergic Living undertook a survey of universities and their accommodations for our Fall 2013 edition, we were surprised to be writing a cover headline that said “Free-from meals and educated chefs are the new normal” at colleges. It wasn’t every institution, but the level of on-campus accommodation was far better – in some cases, it was enlightened and impressive – than we had anticipated. (See our U.S. colleges accommodations chart and our Canadian universities accommodations chart.)

During our research, our writers met many caring individuals – people like chef Tom Murray at Eastern Michigan University. He takes pride in being able to customize a meal for a student’s special needs, and will even cook from a student’s own recipes on request. We were encouraged to find there were others like him at universities across the United States and Canada.

Safer Dining Strategies

Restaurant awareness also got a big boost this year. In July, FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) and the National Restaurant Association announced that they’d partnered to launch a food-services online training course as part of the association’s big ServSafe food safety program. It’s good news that will lead to thousands of kitchen staffs learning the processes that will keep you and your loved ones safe while dining.

Meantime the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness’s GREAT kitchens training program turned up the heat on gluten-free preparation knowledge with a 10-city “chef’s table tour”, featuring Chef Jehangir Mehta, owner of New York City’s Graffiti restaurant.

As well, Paul Antico, founder of the AllergyEats.com allergy-friendly restaurant directory, reports that his second annual restaurateurs conference in Boston was a big hit, with representatives attending from chain and independent restaurants, universities and contract food services (e.g. sports facilities). “Already we’ve heard from many attendees that they will be coming back, likely bringing colleagues,” he says. Awareness in the restaurant industry is growing and evolving, and as Martha Stewart used to say, “it’s a good thing”.

In our Summer edition, Allergic Living brought readers our Road Trip Eating Out Guide, which drove home the point that there are now an impressive number of chain and independent restaurants with the knowledge, training and caring attitude to safely serve those avoiding allergens or gluten. (We always love hearing about good dining experiences, so feel free to share your own by writing to editor@allergicliving.com.)

School Accommodations Boost

October turned out to be a monumental month for food allergy management in the schools. First, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the long-awaited U.S. federal guidelines on managing food allergies at school.

I was impressed by the breadth of knowledge reflected and the level of detail. There is focus in the guidelines on inclusion, whether in the class, the gym or on a field trip. There is the recommendation that schools avoid allergenic food in experiments, parties and as rewards (the latter being music to my ears). When it comes to staff training on managing allergy emergencies, even the bus driver is included.

While these are voluntary guidelines, they bear the advice of key stakeholders (FARE, the National Association of School Nurses, AAFA, etc.). Most importantly, they carry the weight of the CDC’s sanction that school districts are unlikely to ignore.

Next: Stock Epinephrine Laws; Looking Forward to 2014

Allergic Living acknowledges the assistance of the OMDC Magazine Fund, an initative of the Ontario Media Development Cooperation.