The first certified gluten-free dining hall on a college campus has opened at Kent State University (KSU). In partnership with KSU, Sodexo helped design and will manage the day-to-day operations of the dining hall, which serves approximately 800 students every day.
An estimated three million Americans suffer from celiac disease, a genetic autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive process. When a person who has celiac disease consumes gluten, the individual’s immune system attacks the small intestine and inhibits the body’s ability to absorb important nutrients. KSU restructured the Prentice Café after administrators noticed that the number of students arriving on campus with gluten intolerance was rising each year. The new dining facility will meet the ever-increasing demand for gluten-free foods.
“Students’ needs have always been our top priority,” said Rich Roldan, director of university dining services at KSU. “Students have enough to worry about – they should not have to worry about their food being safe to eat. It is important they can eat in a safe environment, which is why we decided to make Prentice Café a certified gluten-free dining location.”
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. It is essential for those with celiac disease and sensitivity to gluten to avoid products containing these ingredients. Some individuals who have not been diagnosed with an allergy or sensitivity to gluten also choose to restrict their gluten intake as a personal preference. Until recently, however, it has often been difficult to find suitable gluten-free food options, especially when dining away from home.
At Prentice Café, all menu items are gluten-free. Although many campuses offer gluten-free products and some even offer gluten-free stations in their dining halls, KSU is the first campus to offer an entire dining hall that is certified gluten-free.
Prentice Café earned certification from Gluten-Free Certification Organization, a program offered through the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG). GIG is a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering the gluten-free community through consumer support, advocacy, and education.
Although gluten intolerance has gained attention in recent years, it can still be challenging to address the needs of students who have celiac disease or sensitivity to gluten. One issue is students’ reluctance to self-identify as gluten intolerant. Students are sometimes self-conscious about special dietary needs and often prefer not to feel singled out when dining on campus. This was something administrators considered when developing Prentice Café.
“It’s important for students who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance to be able to have a safe location where they can go and not have to worry,” explained Megan Brzuski, Kent State University dining services dietitian. “There are many different menu items and options available for students to choose from at Prentice Café.”
Prentice Café opened on August 29, the first day of the fall semester. In addition to every item being gluten-free, the menu also features a variety of vegan and vegetarian dishes, as well as foods that support a healthy lifestyle.