Dining Dilemma: Tackling Cross-Contamination in Lower Baldwin

The peanut butter and jelly bar in Lower Baldwin. Since the beginning of spring semester, there have been questions posed about food contamination and safety (Photo by Phoebe Holm).

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that as of 2024, one out of six Americans get foodborne illness each year. Food safety is important, especially on college campuses where large volumes of food are prepared and served daily. Students, faculty and visitors rely on dining halls, so ensuring food safety is necessary to maintain the campus community’s well-being.

Over winter break, a “PB&J bar” was added in Lower Baldwin, including almond butter, peanut butter, Nutella, strawberry spread and grape jelly. Since its introduction to the dining hall, questions have risen on the safety of such a decision and food safety overall.

When Lake Villa junior Jay Weekly went to Baldwin on Thursday, they said they noticed “there are signs at the gluten-free area that say to be aware of cross-contamination among the utensils, which makes me think it’s a big issue.”

Coopersville junior Tess Anthony, while not personally affected by major food allergies, also said that “inadequate labeling usually leads to issues.”

Reflecting on an incident involving a suitemate’s peanut allergy during her first year dining in Lower Baldwin, she said she “remains on guard,” and wants Baldwin to be safe for everyone.

Speaking on behalf of Metz Culinary Management, General Manager of Metz Culinary Management Jeff Davis said “food safety is the most important thing that we do.”

Along with working to improve food safety, staff are planning to update some existing food stations. Davis said that after receiving complaints about the cleanliness of the ice cream bar located near the back entrance, the staff are making a change.

“We’re putting in a soft serve machine that we’re going to exchange that ice cream unit with,” Davis said. “We want to give students better options.”

Davis has been in charge of daily dining operations on campus since his hiring last October.

The ice cream bar in Lower Baldwin. Metz Dining is addressing cross-contamination concerns by planning to replace it with a soft-serve machine (Photo by Phoebe Holm).

“We score very well in our food scores with the health department, and we have a third party auditor that comes in as well that scores us rated on our cleanliness,” Davis said.

In terms of scoring, Albion College earns a five on the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) scale. The scale analyzes food allergy accommodations across colleges before assigning a rating of 0-14 based on several criteria. This means that Albion College offers five out of 14 accommodations for people with food sensitivities.

Lower Baldwin currently has signs listing ingredients in the food served, as well as access to information through QR codes.

Operations Manager for Metz Culinary Management Victoria Gross said that if students don’t see the signage, “they can always ask the person serving them the food. They will always grab a cook or the chef, and we are always more than happy to talk to students about allergies.”

Along with the presence of signage, students are able to check the menu before entering Lower Baldwin online.

Weekly said that for their friend with an allergy to shellfish, “they just can’t go to Baldwin if they’re serving seafood,” adding that “they always have to be aware of the menu.”

However, Weekly said that Thursday’s dinner menu was not on the website.

“If the menu isn’t posted, it could prevent some individuals from attending Baldwin,” Weekly said.

Metz Catering and Baldwin Hall staff have recently taken steps to improve food safety and address concerns.

“Along with Ashley’s addition and her expertise, we’re also going to be offering cooking classes as well,” Davis said.

Ashley Palmer is Albion College’s dietician. With a specialization in food allergies and education, she said she is “here for the students.”

“I can provide education regarding allergens specifically. I can help identify certain items and I can address any concerns they have, especially with Baldwin,” Palmer said. “If you feel like you have a concern, if you feel like you’re not sure how to address allergens, I’m here.”

Metz will also be hosting a series of allergy awareness classes on February 29 from 10 – 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 – 2 p.m. in Lower Baldwin.

Davis added that he, Gross and Palmer are at the forefront of a team that wants to work with students.

“We’re not perfect. We would love to say that we are, but what we can do is listen,” Davis said. “And I think that’s the most important thing we can do, is listen.”

Students looking for dietary advice are welcome to reach out to Palmer at apalmer@albion.edu.

About Killian Altayeb 24 Articles
Killian Altayeb is from Novi, Michigan and is a second-year student at Albion College. They are a Biochemistry Major with a journalistic interest in all things public health. Contact Killian via email at NA12@albion.edu.

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