Managing Food Allergies on Campus: Why it Matters

Food allergies pose a critical issue for higher education. Learn about best practices for addressing the needs of college students with food allergies.

The increasing number of people with food allergies, coupled with the fact that teenagers and young adults are at the highest risk for fatal food-induced anaphylaxis, makes this a critical issue for colleges and universities. Anyone who works in higher education should take time to understand the rights and protections granted to students with food allergies.

The 2012 settlement agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and Lesley University further increased awareness among higher education professionals that food allergies and celiac disease may qualify as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

The ADA generally prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for people with disabilities in many facets of public life. It defines a disability as any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of a person’s major life activities. Learn more about the ADA and food allergies.

A Campus-Wide Approach

Establishing a collaborative approach, solid policies and procedures, and effective training are essential to providing a safe and inclusive college environment.

No two schools are alike, so administrators should seek to adapt food allergy best practices in ways that work for their campus. This effort will span multiple departments including disability services, resident life, health services and student affairs.

Best Practices

The following principles represent best practices for addressing the needs of college students with food allergies. Schools should develop and maintain:

  • A collaborative, campus-wide approach.
  • A transparent and flexible process capable of meeting student needs without being burdensome.
  • A comprehensive food allergy policy that:
    • Provides a clear process for requesting accommodations and modifications;
    • Establishes what documentation is required to establish a student’s food allergy as a disability;
    • Creates a process for determining appropriate accommodations and modifications;
    • Establishes guidelines for implementing accommodations and modifications;
    • Addresses outreach and marketing of policy to students; and
    • Includes assessment of services.
  • Emergency response plans and training.
  • Confidentiality.
    • As with other medical conditions, information about a student’s food allergy or celiac disease should only be divulged on an as-needed basis. Share it with staff members directly involved with implementing accommodations and modifications, or in the emergency plans for these students.

Look to the FARE Pilot Guidelines for Managing Food Allergies in Higher Education for more information about the components of an effective campus food allergy policy and sample policy language. This resource was developed to assist colleges and universities in best serving their campus communities’ needs. First introduced in 2015, it incorporates input from various campus stakeholders including disability services, dining services, health services and resident life.