Some people have allergies that can be life threatening and Dining Services, along with Michigan Tech, strives for a safe and inclusive environment. Part of process improvement in Dining Services is to identify that our customers (faculty, staff, students, and general public) require allergen information as many people suffer from food related allergies. In an effort to create a safe environment, Dining Services has begun the task of identifying the “big eight” food allergens (eggs, wheat, soy, fish, shell fish/crustaceans, tree nuts, peanuts, and milk/dairy) in their recipes and convenience food products. Dining Services has created icons to help identify these allergens in an effort to communicate the food allergens in a graphic based, non-textual manner.
The process involves going through every recipe, reading every product ingredient label and identifying which foods contain the “big eight” allergens. During this process, Dining Services has discovered that they must read all of the labels and not just the allergen information as they have found the allergen information to be incorrect or incomplete. An example of such an incomplete allergen label was found when the allergen listed for wheat tortillas was “wheat” but when all of the ingredients were read through, Dining found that the tortillas contained “soybean oil” as well. The FDA exempts highly refined soybean oil from being labeled as an allergen. Studies show most (but not all) individuals with a soy allergy can safely eat soy oil that has been highly refined (not cold-pressed, expeller-pressed or extruded soybean oil). However, Dining Services wants to have all of the allergens listed no matter how small the risk to the customers.
Another part of the process consists of identifying the ingredients or products that may list the product allergen as “may contain” which means the product may be produced in a factory that also process products that contain one or several of the “big eight” allergens, such as peanuts. Dining Services is listing these products as it contains that allergen as we wish to be safe rather than sorry.
Dining started this process in the residential dining halls about a year and half ago, listing the allergen icons on the food lines. The next step being the addition of the food allergens on the Dining website.