Accommodating Hoover

NCCS food service, classes promote food allergy safety

Seyara Wanigarathne , Features Editor

Hoover High School accommodates many different types of students depending on their needs. For students with food allergies, the staff does everything they can to ensure that all students are safe from harmful allergens. Things like sterilizing kitchens, and making special allergen-free food items are all things our lunch ladies do to keep our students safe.
HHS Head Chef Mrs. Lisa Shaw talked about how she and the other cafeteria staff take care of foods with allergens.
“We’ve been very diligent in cleaning and sanitizing, keeping food in special containers for people with severe allergies, and keeping everything separated and clean.” Shaw said.
For students like sophomore Addyson Utterback, who has dealt with food allergies all her life, there is an appreciation of the staff who have always been there and ready to help her whenever she needs it.
“I would say the most beneficial thing the school offered was keeping my EpiPen locked away, and because of this I always felt very safe knowing that the school would have a way of helping me in a situation where I could possibly need help,” she said. “They also offered to have a table for nut allergies; I never sat there but I really appreciated this because it showed that the school cared about allergens and wanted to protect [students with food allergies].”
However, there is much more to food allergies than what goes on in the school cafeteria though. Many teachers take extra precautions when it comes to in-class snack time to ensure no accidental reactions take place.
In addition, some classes’ curricula revolve around food. Culinary Arts teacher Mr. Phil Ogilvie [pictured above at a 2019 Traveling TriStar food truck event] has a large responsibility of regulating allergens that could be used in his classroom.
“It all depends on the information we have as to what students are allergic to, as well as what how they will come in contact with program’s products,” he said. “There were also times where the students had to remove ingredients from the pantry entirely, depending on the possible severity of a student’s reaction.”
In addition, whenever the TriStar Cafe caters an event — no matter the number of people — Ogilvie’s students always inquire about food allergies of those who will be in attendance.
“All food products containing potential allergens are clearly marked upon service, so guests know what to avoid,” he said.
Utterback also had some experience with snacks in the classroom. It’s always been challenging for her to deal with food that could unintentionally trigger a reaction for her.
“I think [the rules] should be a bit stricter when it comes to having snacks in the classroom, as well as birthday snacks,” she said. “In elementary school, I always felt like the odd one out because I would never have the snacks people brought for their birthday, because I was always overly cautious. I am very fortunate to have never had a reaction due to someone bringing food, but I am worried for the kids who can relate to me that are at risk for having a reaction.”
The best way to help students dealing with allergies is communication between those with and without food allergies. With knowledge of what students cannot have, it is easier to make specific food, and reserve clean tables to keep the school reaction free. The need for students to talk to teachers about their needs was heightened during the pandemic.
“[During the pandemic], we just made it even more their responsibility; with the increase of volume in sales, we really encourage students to communicate well with food service staff,” Shaw said.
NCCS Food Service Director Mrs. Jill Lauter reiterated this policy.
“We encourage students always to talk to head chef at beginning of school year,” she said.
This system seems quite straight forward, as the responsibility relies mostly on the student and what they know is best for them. This means that when it comes to challenges in the system, it is when the student does not take that responsibility.
“Most students will take a food order and ask if there’s allergens, but we do lots of catering, and some groups have more than 100 kids,” Ogilvie said. “We limit allergen ingredients, and mark allergens in any food we make.”
Shaw agreed.
“It’s just getting the right products, and trying to avoid a product that would be a high allergen to students,” Shaw said.
Students also advocate for themselves.
“Students have been fantastic, they’re very patient,” Shaw said. “For example if we have to make a special salad for someone, they’re very patient and willing to wait, and everyone’s very nice to our lunch ladies.”
Though this system seems solid to most staff, there are some things that they’d like to improve on, Ogilvie said there is an area he’d like to see improved.
“I would love to see flags on our attendance,” he said. “Students that have seasonal allergies get flagged in the system. I would love to see a flag for food allergens; that would make life so much easier, and we could finally know when and what to serve.”
All in all, NCCS is prepared regarding food allergens and policies.
“We got a pretty good system here,” Lauter said “The high school is a good place [for people with allergies], we have food service staff and food safety specialists who know how to not cross contaminate any dangerous allergens.”