Carmichael Dining Center will be converted and rebranded into a gluten, peanut and tree nut free facility starting fall 2021.
In addition to a complete menu redesign to accommodate those with a gluten, peanut or tree nut allergy — the three most common food allergies on the Medford/Somerville campus — the dining center will also undergo a complete rebranding and unspecified name change, according to Kelly Shaw, Tufts Dining nutrition specialist.
“The plan is that by fall 2021, the entire unit will be free from these three allergens,” Shaw said. “While there won’t be a stark physical change, we are completely redoing the menu.”
Patti Klos, director of Tufts Dining and Business Services, explained the motivation behind the proposed change.
“For many years we’ve provided gluten free foods in the dining centers, but because we continue to use gluten containing ingredients in those locations, students could inadvertently be affected by cross contact,” Klos wrote in an email to the Daily. “Many of our peer institutions have a location dedicated to gluten free [dining], and think the time is right for us to take this step for the Tufts community.”
Tufts Dining hopes to redesign the dining center menu to cater to students both with and without gluten, peanut and tree nut allergies. The changes intend to minimize the burden of food-related stress for students with food allergies.
“It’s so important to make sure that all students have a safe, welcoming, consistent place to eat because eating is such a huge part of life,” Shaw said. “We want everybody to want to come to this new iteration of Carmichael Dining because the food will be delicious, and it will happen to be gluten-free.”
Shaw has been conducting focus groups with students with food allergies and using their feedback to determine what the menu of the new dining center will look like. Some ideas that have been proposed include a bagel bar, ramen noodle bar and grain bowl bar.
“It’s not just that we’re eliminating things that don’t fit with the current menu, it will have an entirely new concept,” Shaw said. “The focus will be on customization.”
Klos commented on what the menu plan may look like.
“Think delicious, freshly prepared, popular food that happens to be gluten, peanut and tree nut free,” Klos said.
Traditionally, Carmichael Dining Center has operated under a system where students and other diners pay up front to gain access to the dining center. According to Klos, the rebranded dining center will more closely resemble on-campus retail locations, which would make the location more accessible to students living off campus, in addition to faculty and staff.
“The rebranded Carmichael Dining Center is expected to operate like [Hodgdon Food-on-the-Run] with items individually priced, meal deals and meal equivalents for each meal period,” Klos said.
Klos added that she believes the time is right for the changes to Carmichael Dining Center. While Tufts Dining has offered gluten-free options for many years, she said that some students still may be at risk for cross-contamination in centers that use gluten and other allergens.
The Carmichael changes come after pushes by Tufts Dining in recent years to make dining centers more accessible to students with food allergies. In the 2019–20 school year, Dewick-Macphie Dining Center opened the “All9Free” station, an area dedicated to providing food free of the top nine allergens listed by the Food and Drug Administration. Students may also place alternate orders at the dining centers to accommodate their dietary restrictions, and all foods that contain the top 9 allergens are labeled in all dining centers.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many students have had to shift to placing to-go orders for food ahead of time, although in-person service has resumed at the dining centers. Shaw noted that, for students with food allergies, online ordering may carry additional burdens.
“I think the remoteness of the ordering process has created some issues because students just aren’t able to ask questions or get information or get help if they need it,” Shaw said.
Maddie Yost, who has a gluten allergy, said that the Transact Mobile Ordering application — which students use to place their orders at dining centers ahead of time — can be confusing for those with food allergies.
“I think the hard thing now is you’re ordering off the app for some places, and you don’t really know the nutrition information,” Yost, a sophomore, said. “It’s kind of been a little bit confusing with some of the ordering systems, and if I don’t really know what’s in something, I’m definitely not going to order it.”
Yost mentioned that this semester, there have been nights when she has not been able to eat foods offered at the dining centers. She added that she is excited about the changes to Carmichael Dining Center.
“I honestly think it’s amazing,” Yost said. “Having this opportunity for people to be able to eat in a safe environment would just be so great for the Tufts community … and I think it will benefit a lot of students.”
According to Shaw, in order to guarantee that all food in the redesigned dining center is free of gluten, peanut or tree-nut contaminants, Tufts Dining will be working with Kitchens with Confidence, an independent consultant that grants safety certifications to dining establishments and manufacturing facilities.
Yost hopes that members of the Tufts community will be open to the changes, as she believes transitioning to gluten-free options may be less difficult than some realize.
“A lot of the things you’re normally eating throughout the day are gluten-free,” Yost said. “You’ll be eating pretty much the same food you’ve been eating, it’s just going to be prepared safer for people that have more serious food allergies, which is going to be great.”
Shaw believes that students will be excited when they see the final menu offerings of the redesigned and rebranded Carmichael Dining Center.
“In my experience, Tufts students are really supportive of their peers, for a variety of reasons, and I hope that they continue to support their peers with food allergies or other dietary restrictions,” Shaw said.