College students with food allergies now have an easier way to find safe meal choices. This is thanks to a recent agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.
A former student at Rider with celiac disease filed a complaint with the DOJ. They claimed their meal service went against the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by not providing safe food choices. In Feb. 2019, Rider agreed to make major changes to its food service program. The DOJ found that the university relied on its food service provider’s policies. Instead, the school should have created their own safe food options for all students.
This is a huge step forward for students with food allergies. Schools are now responsible for providing accommodations under the ADA. It cannot pass it off to its food service provider. The school must make sure students with food allergies have equal access to food.
Rider also agreed to:
- Make changes to the food preparation areas to prevent cross contamination
- Hire a full-time nutritionist
- Create a pre-order system for students with food allergies
Students now can go online up to 24 hours before mealtime and request a meal that is free of their allergens. The university also agreed to provide dedicated storage in the dorms for gluten-free food. They also agreed to offer dedicated microwaves and toasters. Also, they will allow students with food allergies to opt out of required meal plans.
This agreement goes beyond the protections put in place by the Lesley University Settlement Agreement from 2012. In that decision, Lesley University had agreed to provide a special meal plan for students with celiac disease and food allergies that was free of their allergens and prepared in an allergen-free environment.
This agreement with Rider expands the Leslie agreement by allowing students to pre-order meals. Students will not have to depend on pre-made meals. It also gives students flexibility in deciding if they should buy the school’s meal plan.
This settlement is not legally binding on other schools. But it will cause other colleges to follow what the DOJ expects. Universities should now take a more proactive role to make sure students with food allergies have equal and safe access to food.