Addressing food allergy concerns at Marketplace

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After a full day of classes, I was dying to crawl back into bed, but even that was too much effort. I lacked the willpower to climb the two flights of stairs to my room; I couldn’t even get up from the couch I’d nestled into. When my friend Alexa entered the lounge, I found my motivation: the basket of Marketplace fries in her hand. I hardly visit Marketplace thanks to my seven food allergies. Unlike at Sadler Center and the Caf, many foods are not labeled for major allergens at Marketplace, and the online menu is never fully updated on the Sodexo Bite app. However, all I wanted was a basket of fries, and Marketplace seemed to be my best bet. I had been warned against Sadler fries — the fryer there is occasionally cross-contaminated with shrimp. I had not been warned against any such cross-contamination in Marketplace, and I couldn’t imagine them using peanut oil, since the College of William and Mary is typically very conscientious about food allergies.

When I walked into Marketplace, I almost picked up a basket of fries from the Grille, but then I caught myself.

“What oil do you fry with?” I asked. The two employees behind the counter glanced at each other, but neither knew. One of them kindly left her station to go find out and returned with the answer.

“Peanut oil,” she said. I was shocked. Peanuts are a major food allergen and should be clearly labeled whenever used in a dish. However, there were no signs about peanuts around the Grille, and the employees were not informed that they were working with peanut oil. The lack of signs and other accessible allergen information at Marketplace poses an enormous risk. A student could easily assume, based on their experience at the College’s other dining options, that Marketplace is also peanut-free or peanut-conscientious. This assumption could be deadly depending on the severity of the student’s peanut allergy.

The Sadler Center, on the other hand, is particularly good at labeling. Sadler employees label all foods with nutrition information and major allergens, and label seafood dishes with extra warnings in large red font. Marketplace does not come anywhere near this standard. To reach a basic level of safety, the College must increase labeling for all dishes and improve allergy training at Marketplace. People — students and staff — should know what is in their food.

Even if the Grille was labeled for peanuts and employees were informed of the presence of peanut oil, the use of peanut oil in Marketplace would remain problematic. It, along with a general lack of allergy-related safety in Marketplace, alienates students with allergies. Social situations become complicated when students cannot eat with their friends at popular dining establishments.

As I mentioned previously, peanuts are such a common allergen that I was shocked to learn of their use at Marketplace. It is possible that I was misinformed, and that Marketplace does not use peanut oil — my opinion is based on one personal experience and is by no means definitive. However, if I was misinformed, then my experience further demonstrates the need for better employee information and training at Marketplace.

I understand that some students love peanuts — peanut butter, Reese’s Pieces, fries with peanut oil — and I understand that my suggestions can seem unfair. Making dining spaces peanut-conscientious requires students to give up a nutritional and tasty (so I’ve heard) food for a minority group of students. However, though students with allergies are a minority, we are by no means small. And though restricting peanuts on campus imposes on the comfort of some students, serving them imposes on the safety of others. I fully admit that I am biased due to my allergies, but I still believe that safety should come first.

Email Julia Urban at jaurban@email.wm.edu