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Email Response from Ursula Hall, ANU - Gluten Free Food Safety Concerns

Updated on October 27, 2014

Photos of Ursies

Ursula Hall (View of C Block)
Ursula Hall (View of C Block) | Source
Ursula Hall Laurus Wing
Ursula Hall Laurus Wing | Source
Ursula Hall Courtyard
Ursula Hall Courtyard | Source

Introduction

This article, on 31 October 2012, includes the response (followed by my comments on it) from the Head of Ursula Hall at The Australian National University (ANU).

About fifteen (15) business days ago, I sent an email to the Ursula Hall administration, informing them about my initial post on the Terrible Gluten Free Experience that I had while residing at the hall.

I received a reply to the initial message approximately 5 business days ago and today I will summarise the response to the initial complaint, mainly in the interest of clarity and understanding and, because there are no confidential communications etc.


Ursula Hall's Reply to my Original email message:

From: Head of Ursula Hall

Sent: Thursday, 25 October 2012; 8:17 PM

Subject: Gluten free

I have been forwarded your email concerning your experiences related to your gluten free dietary requirements as a resident of Ursula Hall from February 2010 to the end of Semester 1, 2012. I have also read your linked article. You have carefully noted your experience and especially detailed what you believe to be the medical evidence concerning the impact of even very small amounts of gluten for someone such as yourself in the coeliac and gluten sensitive community.

Needless to say, I have discussed your concerns with others in the Hall and the University prior to responding.

I am very sorry about what you have reflected of your experience at Ursula Hall, but I am also disturbed that to the best of my knowledge your concerns were not expressed beyond what you say was your communication with the catering staff. Our catering team does not recall any particular expression of concern by you and has re-affirmed that they make every effort to advise students of gluten and dairy free food items. I am aware that there were issues, as you have noted, with the condition of your room and that your course results were poor, but there is no record of any mention by you of your concerns about provision or otherwise of gluten-free food.

I understand, however, that there can be a range of factors that might prevent someone feeling comfortable and/or confident in raising matters of concern at a leadership or more senior level, though I would hope that the nature of any collegiate community would be one where there was a very real sense of care and support for each resident student. I would trust that no-one feels they should suffer in silence or “live in fear” of being ignored.

While I do not know all the factors that might have contributed to your current situation, I want to assure you that, independent of your email, a review of catering at Ursula Hall has commenced and your experience will be a timely and salient part of the catering matters under consideration. The review will cover the overall catering arrangements as well as the nature of particular provision for individual needs such as your own.

If you wish to take this matter further within the University, the Director of Residential and Campus Communities will be happy to hear from you.

Before I go on, what do you think about this response?

Do you feel that Ursula Hall's response was adequate?

See results

Comments on the Response

Firstly, let me say that I appreciate the response. I realise that this is a busy time of year, with exams just around the corner and the end of the year now in sight, and would like to say that it means a lot to me that the head of Ursula Hall is committed to working with the kitchen staff so that a more desirable outcome can be achieved, particularly with regard to accurate gluten and dairy free food labelling.

I would like to, however, clear up a couple of statements that were made in the response that caught my attention (with particular reference to communication):

Statement 1

I am also disturbed that to the best of my knowledge your concerns were not expressed beyond what you say was your communication with the catering staff.

As a more reserved individual, I tend to be fairly quiet about matters that affect my personal life. Because a gluten-related illness is often classified by experts as "the great imitator", it can be difficult to find the cause of one's lack of wellness and energy. It could have been the cold weather down in Canberra that didn't suit me, or the chlorinated water for that matter. The issue only became obvious to me toward the end of 2011. Seeing as though I had previously been (what I would define as) belittled by the head chef and told that "small amounts of gluten won't hurt" by doctors at the ANU Health Service (who I found to be rather misinformed about my condition); I really did not want to press the issue a whole lot further at that point in time.

Having said all of that, I did raise the matter with the admin during late 2010 when I saw the supply of gluten free bread and cereal becoming inconsistent. I also clearly noted, in the 2011 Ursula Hall catering feedback form, that (on what was becoming a rather frequent basis) the main course options labelled GF (gluten free) often comprised of gluten-containing ingredients (such as wheat pasta, hokkien noodles, barley, etc (all of which contain gluten)). I stated that I was very concerned about it and that I would like to see this change. I even stated the grains that contain gluten (i.e. wheat, barley, rye and oats) and stressed the importance of label and ingredient reading as well as procedures to prevent cross-contamination.

Statement 2

Our catering team does not recall any particular expression of concern by you and has re-affirmed that they make every effort to advise students of gluten and dairy free food items.

The kitchen staff were (from my experience and on a very regular basis) misinforming students who required gluten and dairy free food items. They would also often label meals that included cheese DF (dairy free) as well. The head chef became very annoyed on the few occasions that I brought up cross-contamination concerns with regard to my gluten free needs and should have been well aware of my concern (particularly if s/he took heed of what I had to say in the food and catering feedback form that I filled out online last year).

Statement 3

I would hope that the nature of any collegiate community would be one where there was a very real sense of care and support for each resident student.

The headship of the hall had been changing so much over the past couple of years that I had become very confused by what was happening. The kitchen staff were neither honest nor supportive of my gluten free need and it seems that they are still failing to acknowledge the problems that exist(ed).

Therefore, I will be taking this matter further as time allows.

Comments

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    • profile image

      Zacc 2 years ago

      No offense mate but if you felt so strongly you had the option of living in Unilodge or anywhere else as mentioned... No reason to suffer in silence imho

    • profile image

      Shazarna 4 years ago

      As a fellow coeliac, I completely understand your concerns. I chose Unilodge (one of ANU's self catered accommodation facilities) primarily for this reason. I have to disagree with your comment regarding the ANU health service doctors though- I have visited regularly and seen two doctors, both very knowledgeable on coeliac disease and the importance of adhering to a strict gluten free diet.

      I do hope that the catered colleges step up their game for all people with serious dietary concerns (particularly those that are not a choice, but a necessity).

    • icmn91 profile image
      Author

      icmn91 4 years ago from Australia

      Here's an interesting, and timely, article on what happened to one university.

      Excerpt:

      "AS vegetarianism and eating healthy grow increasingly popular, some campus dining halls are going vegan, meatless or pork-free. But in 2013, colleges might have to start focusing less on animal protein and more on gluten - and any other ingredients that can cause debilitating allergic reactions in students.

      That’s what disability and nutrition experts are saying in the wake of last month’s Department of Justice settlement agreement with Lesley University, which requires that institution to do much more so that students with serious allergies can eat safely in campus dining halls, and serves as a warning to other colleges to do the same.

      The agreement answered a lingering question, said Scott Lissner, president of the Association on Higher Education and Disability: the extent to which the Americans with Disabilities Act covered food allergies.

      It’s now clear that it does (at least, when the allergy can cause impairment)."

      "Under the settlement terms, Lesley – and presumably, other institutions that want to stay in line with the ADA – must do more than simply provide gluten and allergen-free options in its food lines (though it has to do that too).

      It must also develop individualised meal plans for students with food allergies and allow them to pre-order meals; provide a dedicated space in its main dining hall to store and prepare foods to avoid cross-contamination; display notices concerning food allergies and identify foods that contain specific allergens; train food service and staff about food allergies; and try to retain vendors that offer food without allergens.

      Lesley must also pay $50,000 (A$47,700) in damages to 'previously identified students' who have celiac disease and other food allergies."

      Full article available here:

      http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/allergies-aff...

      @ssg, yes, college years should be the best years of your life! I wish coeliac disease would have come to me later in life. I get sick of hearing older people whinge about their food restrictions when they have had none for most of their lives.

      Yes, CASE1WORKER, you're absolutely right about how feeling ill can affect all body systems.

      The Head of Ursula Hall is frustrated that I didn't bring up my concerns? Well, maybe Ursula Hall needs more of an education about the serious neurological and skeletal effects. This below document (a result of the recent lawsuit against Leslie University for failing to accommodate the gluten free diet) outlines some of the effects of gluten exposure on the brain and other body systems:

      http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2012/December/12-crt...

      I hope Ursula Hall has learnt their lesson from my experience that they simply cannot keep treating their students this way.

    • CASE1WORKER profile image

      CASE1WORKER 4 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      I think that perhaps you did not take it up so strongly when you were there was because you were sick.............now at home and better you have the strength to do it.

      I had a very tiring job that made me ill and I ate off my diet- purely because I was so tired and yes I got worse- I tried to explain this to the boss in order to go part time, so I could care for myself better and they wouldn't have it- Luckily after writing to several government ministers in the UK our disability unit stepped in and let me go part time and my health recovered.( Believe it or not I worked in the civil service)

      I think that maybe now is the time to move forward- maybe investigate a career where you don't need any more qualifications and if you are planning to have a family somewhere that does part time work-

      Good luck to you I am sure that you will succeed in whatever you choose to do

    • icmn91 profile image
      Author

      icmn91 4 years ago from Australia

      Jason, you're absolutely right. It just goes to show that even those with positions in the most respected of institutions have much to learn.

    • profile image

      JasonWiseHealth 4 years ago

      The response in and of itself is appreciated...but the language of it causes some concern in my view. "What you believe to be medical evidence" and "What you say was your communication with kitchen staff". The perils and pitfalls of a leadership position in a university are many...but the student's dietary considerations must be paramount... especially today.

    • profile image

      Coeliac Chef 4 years ago

      As a professional chef in Sydney AND a coeliac - let me add my comments.

      We try very hard to provide our customers with gluten-free meals. But unless we remove gluten from everything in the kitchen it is impossible to 100% guarantee the meals are gluten-free. The only possible outcome form this type of talk and diatribe will be to have restaurants/cafeterias charging a premium on gluten-free meals. Does anyone want that?

      For example - sir would like gluten free toast with his breakfast? Certainly I have gluten-free bread bought-in - but I do not have a dedicated toaster. Not only do I not have room in the kitchen for two of everything - even if I did there is still the possibility of air-born allergens.

      Another option is to put "low in gluten" on the menu - but this doesn't truly reflect the gluten content. When the meal is made of gluten free products we should be able to say it is gluten free. AND it should be obvious that while every effort is taken - there is the possibility of unknown or accidental contamination.

      Remembering that I am on a gluten free diet too, I take exemption to comparing nut and seafood allergies to gluten issues. Both nuts and seafood are easier to remove from meals and to keep safe. My kitchen has NO peanuts. And seafood is already kept separate for obvious reasons. Gluten is different - it can be found in everything and used in any part of a menu. Removing all traces is impossible.

      Of course the alternative response to posts such as this is that restaurateurs simply say "to hell with it let them eat at home."

    • profile image

      John 4 years ago

      Very inadequate response. It's unfortunate that people in the catering industry can be so ill informed. The condition does not seem to be taken very seriously by your hall management - I bet they would not take such a relaxed attitude to a peanut allergy.

      I hope you manage to inform and educate them.

    • profile image

      Bubba's Mom 4 years ago

      It's just awful that those in charge of providing a safe food supply had no understanding of what was safe! I think I would have gone over their heads and reported the inconsistancies. If nobody complains, they assume that the need to be 100% gluten free or dairy free isn't really necessary. They need to be educated.

      Best wishes for a resolution to all of this.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 4 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Good for you for sticking to your guns. Don't be intimidated. Regardless of your situation, they should have been educated in these matters before making claims to people with dietary restrictions. If you're going to serve the public, make sure your kitchen is inspected and your staff is informed.