A Closer Look At Penn State Dining’s Food Allergy Accommodations

Most Penn State students are lucky enough to not worry about what kind of food they’re going to eat for their next meal. But for others, that isn’t the case. 

University Park houses over 40,000 undergraduate students, all utilizing the dining hall at some point throughout their four years. But what about students with specific allergy accommodations? How does Penn State dining ensure they can get the foods they need safely? 

Penn State’s registered dietitian, Katy Petrosky, is key to helping manage food services for students with allergies and other dietary needs.

Petrosky has served as Penn State’s registered dietitian since April 2019. She received her bachelor’s degree in marketing from Penn State and her master’s degree in allied medicine and medical dietetics from Ohio State.

Prior to her current role at Penn State, Petrosky was the food service director at J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, for nine years. 

Preparing food for thousands of students every day is challenging enough, but Petrosky and the rest of the dining hall crew work extremely hard to accommodate those with allergies. She says communication is key to building relationships with students, even before they step foot on campus for their freshman year. 

“We try to meet students where they are. If folks need to be able to see the ingredients and allergens to navigate safely, we let them know how to access that information,” Petrosky said. “If students want to have their meals prepared safely in the back, we will provide them with our order form to arrange that.” 

Petrosky said the kitchen currently has about 450 first-year students who have disclosed a food allergy. The number goes over 1,000 for first through fourth or even fifth-year students, but a majority of them will self-navigate as they get older, leaving Petrosky with a much smaller number to work with. 

Although students report a variety of different allergies, the most common ones Petrosky sees are peanuts, tree nuts, wheat or gluten, and dairy. However, having to accommodate a wide variety of allergies can make it challenging to ensure that there is no cross-contamination within the kitchen.  

“Cross-contact prevention gets very difficult in self-service areas, so this is an area where students with food allergies need to use extra caution and request food from the back or backup pans instead of risking cross-contact in these areas,” Petrosky explained.

To create these backup pans, the dining hall chefs have a process they must follow.

First, they look at policies that tell them what recipes they are allowed to use. These recipes are closely followed, and information on ingredients and allergens is displayed on a menu for them to work with. The culinary team and management team work hand-in-hand throughout the entire process to ensure that each individual student’s accommodations are met.

Petrosky and the rest of the crew try to have as many allergy-friendly options on their daily menus, however, it can become quite demanding, which is why students can put in special requests for items such as gluten-free pasta or a bagel with dairy-free cream cheese.

Petrosky takes pride in making sure every student safely gets the meals they need every day.  

Students who have any questions or think they might need any assistance can email [email protected]. You can also visit the allergies and special diets webpage for more information.

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About the Author

Emily Grill

Emily is a third-year broadcast journalism student from New Jersey. She likes to think that being Italian and 5 feet tall are her biggest personality traits. You can probably catch her at Chick-fil-A at least two or three days out of the week. Feel free to contact her by emailing [email protected].

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