Located inside the Hawk Dining Commons at Southern Oregon University (SOU) is a secure location for students who need to avoid certain food allergens. The location, called the Nest, is stocked with allergen-free alternatives to foods that normally contain gluten, nuts, dairy or soy.
Developed by management company A’viands, a unit of Elior North America, and based on research by Food Allergen Research Education (FARE), the Nest incorporates FARE’s guidelines for managing food allergies in higher education.
Access is limited to students who have completed a request form and met with an RD and the school’s foodservice director to discuss their dietary needs and the food options and the alternate products available to them at the Nest.
The Nest is located in a separate space from the general dining area and only trained staff members can access it, a safeguard ensured by the Hawk Dining Commons management team, which is GREAT (Gluten-free Resource Education Awareness Training) Kitchens certified.
Students who have received permission to get in must sanitize before prepping their food. Once they have assembled their meals, they then have the option of eating with friends in the main dining area while enjoying the safely prepared allergen-free dishes.
The Nest has its own dishware and utensils that are stored in a separate area and reserved for Nest use only. Dry food for the station is also stored in separate cabinets to avoid cross-contamination with other products, and a refrigerator, freezer, microwave, panini press, toaster and waffle maker are available for the exclusive use of Nest clients.
The concept was promoted to current students who live on campus through university housing and has been a topic of discussion during campus tours by prospective students as well as at preregistration events and when students sign up for housing.
SOU dining has worked with the school’s disability resources outlet to communicate the allergen-friendly concept, and department dietitians discuss the option with students potentially requiring the service.
The Nest was developed in response to students challenged with finding a safe dining environment, as well as to support the campus culture that emphasizes meeting the needs of such students.
“The initial goal was to engage current students to pilot the program before formally announcing it and introducing it to incoming students,” says Josh Lanier, foodservice director at SOU for A’viands. “During the pilot, great feedback was received from the 12 participating students.”
That was in spring 2016. The Nest was then fully launched the following fall.