Addressing food allergy concerns at Marketplace

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November 6, 2017

11:20 PM

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 [email protected]

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  • Julia Urban

(9) Readers Comments

  1. Jonathon Bumboli
    November 7, 2017 at 7:12 PM

    I cannot believe you wrote a slander piece about a place you obviously don't visit. What would possess you to ask about peanut oil? Marketplace is run by Sodexo, they run Sadler and Commons....none of them use peanut oil. I visit Marketplace 5-8 times per week, all of the items are labeled with allergens except the grill for obvious reasons. I know 75% of the staff and they are allergen certified (at least I saw the plaques last year). I would have asked for the manager after the peanut oil could moment cause that is crazy!!! This is why I hate the Flat Hat and don't endorse it, you need to go to MP.....actually pay attention and retract this story. You are giving the best dining option and best staff a black eye....maybe you are a Sadler manager?

    • Kyle Lao
      November 7, 2017 at 10:15 PM

      Maybe if you read the entire article, you would see that she mentioned this was only based off her one experience at Marketplace. Questioning why she would ask what oil the fried are cooked worj shows you can’t comprehend simple things. Did you ever think, oh, maybe she has a severe peanut allergy? She never accused the staff of being uncertified. You’re putting words into her mouth...YOU need to pay attention and retract your response

      • Kyle Lao
        November 7, 2017 at 10:17 PM

        “What oil the fries are cooked with*”

        • Anonymous
          November 16, 2017 at 1:19 PM

          Wow,....the same oil used in every Sodexo place on campus...vegetable oil. It doesn't matter if she has a peanut allergy....it is known to everyone that Sadler and Commons are nut free....why wouldn't Marketplace be nut free? Why wouldn't you call the dietician Julie Nance and ask about Marketplace if you never eat there? Why wouldn't you ask for a manager if it's life and death if you eat peanuts? I am a graduate student that eats at all 3 locations....we know how fellow students take everything literally....he didn't put words in her mouth....it's called assumptions...very fair assumptions I might add based on the inferred meaning behind her comments. There is nothing in this article that suggests that she was concerned about a life and death decision to eat....personal responsibility is key. The rest of the article is just plain false....everything I see is marked with allergens....I could agree that maybe we could suggest bigger signage but come on....just open your eyes....it seems like she needed to write an article and this was an easy fix...

    • Pat Pastorelli
      November 8, 2017 at 4:04 PM

      I don’t understand your strong and angry response to a rather straightforward question. Whether or not peanut products are used in food preparation can be a life or death matter for many people and responsible food purveyors need to embrace that fact. Simple.

      • Anonymous
        November 16, 2017 at 1:34 PM

        Simple....MP run by Sodexo....if you eat fried items in Sadler or Commons...you can eat in MP....simple. I think Sodexo does a great job with allergens....simple....we have a campus dietician.....simple....we don't have to write articles creating a problem that doesn't exist....SIMPLE.

  2. Lilac
    November 8, 2017 at 5:05 PM

    Bumbolli, Instead of attacking a person with life threatening peanut allergy, how about you try to put yourself in their shoes and take their concerns seriously. After all it IS a life or death situation! No, she does not represent anyone else, she’s her own advocate; she’s trying to stay around and enjoy life to it’s fullest. Looking forward to reading you regret your harsh outburst and apologize to people like Julia.

  3. Anonymous
    November 10, 2017 at 3:11 PM

    *Highly refined peanut oil is not required to be labeled as an allergen. Studies show that most people with peanut allergy can safely eat this kind of peanut oil. ... But avoid cold-pressed, expelled or extruded peanut oil—sometimes called gourmet oils. https://www.foodallergy.org/common-allergens/peanut

  4. Katherine Hales
    November 10, 2017 at 6:05 PM

    Congratulations on your first article! It’s amazing!! Also raises a very important concern about the dining hall, I hope they will come up with a solution to this problem!

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