Can we label major allergens in prepared foods campus-wide?
I don't really know who to ask so I figured I'd email you.
I have an allergy and am expected to go to several networking events on campus as part of my degree. Luckily food is usually served as these events often are back to back and during dinner time. However, the food is never labeled. I was at one networking event at Statler and every prepared food item had a sign with common allergens crossed off (ie nuts, shellfish) if they were present in the dish. I thought that it was so useful! I've asked people who have prepared the food at my events (when I can find them) and have not gotten a straight answer as to whether my allergen (nuts) is present. Can we please label major allergens in prepared food campus wide? It would really help.
Grad Student in Favor of Labeling
Dear Grad Student in Favor of Labeling,
Thank you for submitting this Ask a Dean question!
Many event planners on campus take advance actions to help ensure their events are accessible for participants, with accessibility including food accommodations for those with significant food restrictions due to allergies and/or religious restrictions. The office of Student Disability Services provides guidance on how to plan inclusive events. This includes using advance registration forms that provide registrants the opportunity to share information on accessibility needs such as food restrictions. If when registering for an event where food will be served you find that such a question is not included on the form, or if the form does not include instructions on how to contact someone regarding accessibility needs or food restrictions, I strongly encourage you to contact the event organizer to make them aware of your allergies and to request for all food provided to be clearly labeled for allergens.
On campus, it is the standard practice of Cornell Dining for the menus in Cornell's All You Care To Eat dining rooms to be labeled for the eight major food allergens: wheat, dairy, eggs, fish, nuts, peanuts, soy, shellfish, as well as gluten. Made to order foods are not labeled in the same way, but those preparing made to order foods should be able to provide additional information about the ingredients and food prep. You will find more information about working with Cornell Dining on food accommodations at https://living.cornell.edu/dine/whoweare/nutrition/allergies.cfm and with Student Disability Services at https://sds.cornell.edu/accommodations-services/housing-dining/dining.
Outside of Cornell Dining, food at events catered by Cornell Dining or Statler Catering are labeled as part of their standard practice, which aligns with your experience at a recent networking event at the Statler. However, not all caterers label food as part of their standard practice. Consequently, event planners need to make such a request to their chosen caterers. This is a common request, and is one caterers typically fulfill when asked. However, as you have learned through your own experiences, if such an advance request is not made of a caterer, the serving staff onsite for an event may not be fully knowledgeable about the prep and ingredients of the food being served especially if their role is only to serve rather than prep food. Additionally, food delivered rather than catered for events is not commonly labeled. Examples of delivered food would be food provided by local pizza and sandwich shops, which is just dropped off rather than served by catering staff. Therefore, this is something you should keep in mind when participating in events where food is provided.
I hope this information is helpful to you! Please know that your request serves as an important reminder to the Graduate School and our partners to ensure that our inclusive event planning practices include requesting food allergen labels for food provided at all catered events.
Sara Xayarath Hernández
Graduate School Associate Dean for Inclusion & Student Engagement
University Diversity Officer