Campus Bites & ER Frights: Managing Food Allergies

fruits and vegetables on a table

If you’ve grown up with allergies or food sensitivities, you know just how careful you need to be in a new environment, but do the thousands of others around you also know? Starting a new journey at RIT can be exhilarating, freeing, and perhaps overwhelming and with an increase in food allergies nationally, there’s another consideration to add to your plate whether you have allergies or not. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself and others from an ER fright.

The Big 8

No, we’re not talking about the former NCAA conference. “The Big 8” are eight allergens that are responsible for about 90% of all allergic reactions to food – eggs, dairy, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts (U.S. Food & Drug Administration, 2018). Food manufacturers are required by law to list these common allergens on all food labels, either (in parentheses) or in Contains: list (U.S. Food & Drug Administration, 2006). But beware - labels are ever-changing as recipes are modified, so be sure to carefully inspect every time. RIT Dining Services also codes its own recipes for the Big 8 allergens, as well as gluten. Ingredients can be found in NetNutrition, located under Nutrition/Allergen at and in the RIT app under Dining Services. 

But I Don’t Have Allergies…

So you bake a batch of peanut butter cookies and bring one into class. What’s the harm?  People with allergies and food sensitivities can have an attack by inhaling, ingesting, or coming into contact with an allergen. Cook fish in your apartment, leave a cookie crumb on your desk, or neglect to disclose an allergen in your dish; all situations can result in a potentially life threatening attack. Make sure to be mindful of your food and others around you. Respect when a space has “no food and drink” rule as someone in that space could have an allergy.

Every Three Minutes

That is how frequently a food allergy attack sends somebody to the ER (Food Allergy Research & Education). The burning question is, if an allergic reaction to food happens to a friend, or even to yourself, how do you know? Truthfully, it can be a scary thing to witness or experience - if there is a severe allergic reaction, the throat may close up and make it very difficult or impossible to breathe. Other symptoms can include a red neck, face, or possible rash on the body. There may be a very upset stomach with vomiting or other bowel movements. A person who is at risk of having a severe allergic reaction may carry an Epi-Pen. They may be able to give themselves the necessary dose to stop the reaction.

How to Protect a Life

First and foremost, call 911, then immediately call the Public Safety Emergency Hotline at (585) 475-3333. The RIT first responders will be much better suited to locate and reach you within minutes. While you wait for emergency assistance, try if possible to keep the person calm and breathing. Have the person remain seated or lay flat on the floor with feet elevated. They should not stand or be moved.

Protect Yourself from Allergens at RIT

Are you the one in 25 who has a food allergy (Food Allergy Research & Education)? How can you protect yourself on campus and what resources does RIT provide? Here’s the resources we recommend:

  1. Submit the online Food Allergy Information Form. This is sent directly to the Disability Services Office to capture your dietary needs.
  2. Meet Mary Anne McQuay, RIT Dining Services’ Registered Dietitian. She is committed to assisting you with any special dietary needs and preferences at RIT Dining Services locations. She is available at (585) 475-6502,, or stop by her office in the SAU - room A496.
  3. Familiarize yourself with the RIT Dining locations. View recipe and ingredient information available at NetNutrition. This tool can be your guide to finding what foods to avoid and which ones to seek on campus.
  4. Introduce yourself to the managers or staff supervisors at dining locations and notify them of dietary and allergen concerns. Do not speak with student supervisors about your allergies. Managers and supervisors are specially trained to help find solutions for you.
  5. Notify your professors, employers, and fellow students about your allergies. Basically, do everything necessary to build a relationship with the people who can help keep you safe from an allergy attack.

Helpful Tips

  • The main dining hall, Gracie’s (Grace Watson Hall), offers students the option to call or text in their meal order with personal specifications and then can eat in or pick up their meal to bring back to their own residence.
  • Visit the Simply Eats food station in Gracie’s for meals that contain zero Big 8 allergens. And don’t worry – we can attest that the food there tastes great!
  • Be careful at cafés and bakeries (e.g. Artesano, Midnight Oil, Javas, Beanz, College Grind). Nuts and residue from allergens can hide in baked goods and coffees. Even baked goods that don’t contain allergens can be made or stored in an environment that contains nuts.
  • Watch out for sauces and dressings, which could contain wheat or soy and are not easily identifiable. Exercise caution when ordering such items and always ask questions to the RIT Dining Services managers or supervisors if you are unsure about a food item and what it contains!
  • Be your own best advocate when it comes to your allergy concerns. After all, you go to RIT, your time here should be full of exciting adventures and personal successes. Don’t slow yourself down by worrying or fearing the risks of food on campus.


Food Allergy Research & Education. (n.d.). Life with Food Allergies. Retrieved from Food Allergy Research & Education web site:… U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2006, July 18). Food Allergen Labeling And Consumer Protection Act of 2004 Questions and Answers. Retrieved from U.S. Food & Drug Administration web site:… U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2018, September 26). Food Allergies: What You Need to Know. Retrieved from U.S. Food & Drug Administration web site:  

Tagged: dining, RIT, rit allergies, rit dietitian, rit dining, rit dining services, rit food allergies, Rochester Institute of Technology