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Schools forced to adjust to students' food allergies

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The number of students dealing with dangerous food allergies is increasing and that means that school cafeterias have to adjust to the new reality.

Every university in the country is looking at the issue now. Not just because there are more students with food allergies - but because of a legal battle.

Purdue freshman Steven Zehr is just starting to digest the meal plan. 

"They definitely have a wide variety of options," said the Jasper native.

But Steven's got to be careful with those options.

"It would start in my lips then my throat and mouth would get really dry," he said.

For others with nut allergies like Steven's, the reaction could be deadly.

"Good for me to ask about the two things on the right," Steven said as he checked out food at a counter in Wiley Dining Hall.

At Purdue, the number of students enrolled with serious food allergies this year is twice last year's. At Ball State, there are 35 percent more and IU and Butler are both working to help students with serious food allergies.

"They even have a separate fryer, gluten-free, so they're sure there's no cross contamination," said freshman Clara Danao. 

Danao and other students talked food safety with food service staff. 

The issue came to the front burner earlier this year with an out of court settlement involving and out of state university. The settlement established serious food allergies are covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act. 

Now, schools must closely work with students to meet their needs. Something the dining hall supervisor at Wiley has been doing for over a decade.

"My passion for helping students with food allergies is because of my son's food allergies," Carrie Anderson said.

So at Wiley Dining Hall, pasta for gluten-free students "will always be elbow macaroni," says Anderson. 

Pointing to a 12-burner stove, she says it can get confusing picking out which pots or pans are for allergen-free foods.

"We have an allergy kit. A pan - it has a purple handle," Anderson said.

All the utensils for non-allergen foods have purple handles, too.

"So the cook will always know that it is for someone who has a food allergy," she said. 
"We have a smoker. All the smoked meats are gluten-free."

Students are urged to ask staff how things are prepared.

"They're willing to help us out anyway they can," Zehr said.

"I was very satisfied with the number of options there were," Danao said.

And how can you tell the cupcakes in the desert case are gluten-free? They're the ones with red frosting.

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