Junior McKella Sylvester experienced anaphylactic symptoms due to cross-contamination of the chocolate chips and granola at the Chobani Café at Case-Geyser Library. Severely allergic to tree nuts, Sylvester was admitted to Community Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Room on Thursday, October 31.
After consuming two spoonfuls of her snack, Sylvester’s lips itched, throat stung and tongue tingled. “If I had eaten more than two spoonfuls, the effects would have been devastating,” Sylvester said. “Tree nut allergies are so common—it’s logical to assume that they would be separated from other ingredients.”
Sylvester contacted Associate Vice President of Community Affairs and Auxiliary Services Joanne Borfitz to report the incident and request compensation for her Emergency Room visit. Borfitz notified Resident District Manager of Chartwells Doug Pedrick, who set up a meeting with Sylvester to investigate the incident. Colgate ultimately paid for Sylvester’s ER bills and reimbursed her for her meal swipes.
After learning of the incident, Colgate Dining Services took a number of steps to ensure the safety of guests with nut allergies, according to Pedrick. These steps included the reinforcement of employee training in regard to proper handling of allergen-containing ingredients.
“Nuts are now stored separately in the back of house,” Pedrick said. “We removed them from the serving line and they are now stored in a separate location, adding a secondary process to making recipes that include nuts.”
Dining Services also added allergen identifications on the kiosks located in the Café so guests can remove specific ingredients from menu offerings.
“We take these situations very seriously and are currently having discussions with the Chobani team to best facilitate students with allergies,” Pedrick said.
This was not the first time Sylvester encountered allergens at campus dining facilities.
“Last year, I got food poisoning three separate times at Frank Dining Hall,” Sylvester said. “Just yesterday, I had an adverse reaction at Frank due to cross-contamination of gluten.”
Sylvester expressed her hope that Dining Services will prevent episodes like hers from happening again.
“Chobani doesn’t currently accommodate students with dietary restrictions—there are very few options for us,” Sylvester said. “It seems as if our needs aren’t being met.”
Sylvester encourages students with dietary restrictions to voice their concerns and to advocate for change on campus.
“There’s so many different people on campus with different demands,” Sylvester said. “We have to look at things holistically and specifically.”
Since December 1, digital menus at the Chobani Café now highlight all items containing allergens so that guests are aware of which menu items contain major allergens.
“For someone who is personally anaphylactic to shellfish and allergic to pistachios, it is pretty concerning that cross-contamination can happen on campus and it is even more boggling how this could occur at the most recently built dining spot up the hill," sophomore Nick Francoeur said. "I usually can go throughout my day without worrying about having to use my epipen or receiving medical attention because shellfish is not often served here at Colgate. But for other students who have extremely severe and sensitive allergies, this would be very concerning. I am glad to hear that Colgate acted swiftly.”