Email Response from Ursula Hall, ANU - Gluten Free Food Safety Concerns
Photos of Ursies
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?
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):
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.
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).
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.