GLUTEN FREE/CAFETERIA PROJECT

This project was started by a group of concerned parents to discuss the issue of children with allergies eating at the school cafeteria.

Background

A number of parents with children with severe food allergies – particularly wheat/gluten allergies – had concerns:

  • Some parents with children with Coeliac disease were concerned about allowing their children to eat in the cafeteria because they were unsure that there would be no cross contamination of foods.
  • Some parents were finding that the gluten free option had run out or were unsure how to access the gluten free option (ie pasta or pizza).

Response

In January 2016, 2 members of the PSO board, Andrea Hunt and Tracey Good met with Chris Owen (head of catering) and Bo Wood (VP of HS) to discuss the issue of food allergies and the catering department’s response.

  • It was a very positive meeting and we felt much better about the situation.
  • There are approximately 60 students with significant dietary restrictions due to religion or allergy and Chris keeps detailed lists of ingredients in each dish, these are also displayed behind the counter for quick checking by the staff during service.  There are further 200+ students with nut allergies but we did not discuss them as the campus is nut free and nuts are not served in the cafeteria.
  • The catering department’s staff is now much more stable and long term which is contributing to the staff member’s knowing the menu and ingredients in depth and caring about their jobs.  Up until recently Chris had been dealing with a lot of temporary workers for unfilled positions and this has been disruptive as there is a learning curve.
  • Chris is more and more being able to source Gluten Free options on a regular basis – pizzas, pastas, etc.  In the past his supplier has been spotty – only having items in stock infrequently.
  • Chris assured us that the kitchen is a “5 star kitchen” which in practical terms means that food is prepared with special attention to cross contamination and cleanliness.  ie the GF pizzas are prepared before the regular pizzas, they are cooked at the top of the oven, GF pasta is drained separately and not kept out on the service so that cross contamination cannot occur, meat is always dealt with on a certain counter for safety. Etc. Etc.
  • Signage is improving on the TV screens entering the cafeteria to direct students to GF/dairy free/soy free options.
  • Chris is also trying to ensure that if the Main Meal has a significant number of allergens in it – dairy, eggs, gluten that either the daily special (Mon, Wed, Fri) or the Grab and Go (Tue, Thu) are free of these and vice versa.  There should be an something hot on almost all days.  He also pointed out that the salad bar is a “deli bar” and has many protein options on it – not just lettuce!
  • Chris is also very responsive to questions about the food on a daily/weekly basis via email.  His email address is cowen@acs-schools.com and parents are encouraged to email him if their child has any dietary restrictions.  He is very approachable and there to help.
  • He took the point that the lunch document available to parents on the School Intranet did not give as much information as parents might need to make allergen decisions.  However, he has all the information so that parents can determine exactly what is in each main meal.  We are going to help him improve the spreadsheet with this information and post it with the Main Meals document.
  • We also encouraged Chris to post more of this information that we are summarizing here so that parents can feel better about what the catering department’s top quality response to kids with special dietary needs.  He is not boasting enough about what he’s doing!  He is working to have the department have a web page with more up to date information generally and not just the quarterly menus but this is a medium term project.

Conclusion

The PSO was satisfied with the information provided and felt the school answered the questions and concerns that the committee raised.  At this time the committee felt no further meetings were needed.