University is a “very dangerous time” for students with food allergies

Students who suffer from food allergies are at their most vulnerable when they
start university. As they leave home to go university, it’s a very dangerous time for food allergy sufferers, and caterers should be especially vigilant.

Leaving home for the first time is life-changing for any young person but for those
suffering from food allergies it can be a very especially difficult time because they are
having to manage their allergies for themselves. Prior to this, their parents probably
cooked for them and did the food shopping, checking labels to ensure things are
free from specific allergens.

Peer pressure also has an influence as some allergy sufferers don’t want to feel
different and may not take life-saving medication out with them.

I know the full extent of the stress and anxiety that food allergies can have on
students, as my daughter Sophie is severely allergic to gluten, lactose, potatoes and
maize.

I’ve led a TUCO pilot to create a bespoke Code of Practice for managing food allergens on the Manchester Metropolitan University campus. The pilot was
launched in July last year and the pilot group is due to feedback its thoughts this
month. The main scheme will be launched this July.

In the meantime, universities should try to gain Allergen Accreditation. At MMU, we were one of the first university’s in the country to successfully achieve the
qualification.

Getting the whole team on board is vital. I challenged my team to each
give up one of the 14 food allergens for a month so that they could experience first
hand what people with food allergies and intolerances have to face. I ended up with
24 volunteers and we raised over £1,000 for Allergy UK in the process, but it was a
really interesting exercise.

There are so many misconceptions surrounding food allergies. For example, some
people think it’s a fad or that cooking will kill the allergen, but it’s actually a life-
threatening condition and we need to deal with it in a serious way.

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