Duke Dining’s ‘Ask Me’ allergen awareness program receives nationally-recognized award

The National Association of College and University Food Services recently awarded Duke Dining a Gold Award in the ‘Most Innovative Wellness and Nutrition Program’ category for its “Ask Me” allergen awareness program.

Duke Dining wrote in an email to The Chronicle that the honor recognizes the “outstanding nutrition and wellness programs implemented within collegiate foodservice programs to meet the needs of a dynamic student population.”

In his statement, NACUFS CEO Robert Nelson highlighted the “innovative approaches and unparalleled passion for culinary excellence” of this year’s award submissions, noting the “tireless efforts and unwavering dedication of the exceptional individuals and teams who elevate the standard of campus dining across North America.”

The “Ask Me” program was created to accommodate and reach out to students with food allergies.

“The goal is to provide the Duke Community access to information and service that provides comfort and confidence when dining at any Duke Dining location,” Duke Dining wrote in its email. “We want our customers to be aware that we have the capability and resources to accommodate many of their specific dietary requirements.”

The program ensures that each dining venue has specially trained food allergy experts on duty at all times. These representatives, identifiable by their iconic purple “Ask Me” hat, are the point of contact for all dietary concerns and oversee all made-to-order meals for customers with food allergies. In correspondence with the program, each venue is required to carry purple kits for allergen-free meals and mark allergen-free orders with stickers.  

Although the program primarily benefits students with food allergies, it also benefits the rest of the student body, Duke Dining wrote. Each dining venue must now provide ingredient and allergen information for every recipe, contained in a purple binder at each register.

The program was created in October 2021 and presented to the Duke University Student Dining Advisory Committee for input, according to Duke Dining. In January 2022, 50 Duke Dining employees completed an “intensive training course” to enhance their knowledge of food allergies and preparation. The program was then piloted at the Brodhead Center and expanded to remaining dining venues in August 2022.

“Moving forward, we are committed to continually refining the program each semester, with a particular emphasis on training dining employees and ensuring their success in the food preparation process for students with special dietary needs,” Duke Dining wrote in its email.

In February, Duke Dining received a FARECheck Gold Status for its East Campus dining facilities, becoming the first university dining program in the country to receive the certification for an entire facility. The certification is administered by Food Allergy Research and Education, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness for food allergies. Marketplace and Trinity Café met FARE standards when they were officially deemed peanut- and tree-nut-free.

FARE also played a role in developing the “Ask Me” allergen program. According to Duke Dining, two certified FARE training instructors teach allergen training to Duke Dining’s employees.

Two new dining locations, It's Thyme and an East Campus venue operated by The Picnic Basket Catering, will open to Duke students this fall. It’s Thyme will replace Panda Express, which closed in May. The new “self-contained venues” will be free of the nine most common food allergens and gluten. 


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