Students wish MSU’s allergen free dining hall could be open for longer hours

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The entrance to Thrive Dining Hall

Rachel Lewis

The entrance to Thrive Dining Hall

Living With Food Allergies

Living away from home and learning time management skills are only some of the many challenges incoming college students face. But for some, figuring out how to navigate the dining halls brings even more anxiety. 

“I think for anyone with food allergies, coming into a college setting can be really stressful,” MSU freshman Alina Morse said. 

Morse manages her allergies to wheat and tree nuts daily. This was part of her decision to come to MSU. “If the school is accommodating I think that brings some peace of mind so I definitely had some peace of mind coming into MSU,” she said. 

The main accommodation MSU offers is the Thrive Dining Hall located in Owen Hall. Thrive is a certified allergen free dining hall, and is completely free of the top nine major allergens in the U.S., including; peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, fish, shellfish, soy, sesame, wheat and gluten. 

Although Thrive chefs have to avoid so many common ingredients, they still figure out ways to make their menus exciting. 

“It really is kind of a trial and error when we have so many different restrictions,” said Ross Grimmett, the Dining Service Manager for Thrive. “But that doesn’t mean that the food here is bland or basic.” 

“It doesn’t taste allergen free,” Morse said. She, along with her suitemates, eat at Thrive often to ensure there are plenty of safe options. 

“Thrive is an interesting place,” Said Will Romanyk, MSU junior who worked at the dining halls as a Student Supervisor in Training. “They can’t make so many regular foods like hamburgers or tacos, or anything that requires any sort of bread, but it is good food.”  

Cutting Cross Contamination

Thrive ensures safety for students with severe allergies through their strict policies for cross contamination. 

“They are very strict about hand washing and cross contamination,” Romanyk said. “Basically we tried to take every step to make sure the foods were safe for people to eat.”

Grimmett explained that since the university food source is aware of what ingredients are being ordered for Thrive, they are physically unable to order items that contain any of the major allergens. All of the approved ingredients used at Thrive come from FDA certified allergen free sources. 

Additionally, Thrive has very strict rules about hand washing and clean uniforms to ensure there is no cross contamination. 

“Anytime our employees go into our kitchen they have to wash their hands, that goes for our student employees, our full time employees, even the maintenance and delivery guys when they come in, first thing they got to do is wash their hands,” Grimmett said. 

Even Thrive uniforms are kept separately from the other dining halls. 

“MSU laundry does our uniforms separately from everyone else’s so that we don’t have shirts that were in the Gallery one day to make it over here,” he added. 

Finally, kitchen surfaces in thrive are tested once a month, to ensure there are no traces of any allergens. 

Hours of Operation

Although Thrive is a great option for students dealing with allergies, it’s not always the most convenient. 

Thrive’s hours are much different compared to the other dining halls on campus. For example, on weekdays they are open 11 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. On the weekends, Thrive is only open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Although this is the first semester that Thrive is open at all on the weekends, their reduced hours compared to other dining halls on campus create challenges for some students. 

“I live right next door so I’m in a great spot to come here as frequently as possible,” Morse said. “But for students trekking across compass I think it would be really beneficial to extend the hours especially on the weekends when it can be hard to find options that are safe.” 

The reason for Thrive’s reduced hours is due to both limits in ingredient options and their minimal traffic. 

“It’s really hard to do an allergen free breakfast because eggs are a big part of breakfast in this country and we can’t do eggs,” Grimmet said.

He added that because many students only see Thrive as allergen free, students without allergies tend to avoid it. 

“If we start getting more traffic we would probably increase our hours,” Grimmett said. “That’s something that we’re trying real hard to get out to the student body in general. I don’t have any food allergies and I eat here five days a week. Everybody can eat here,” he said. 

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