Welcome to our guide to managing food allergies at Queen's University Belfast. The University is committed to reducing the risk to staff, students and visitors with food hypersensitivities which could lead to an allergic reaction.
What are Food Hypersensitivities?
‘Food hypersensitivities’ include food allergies, food intolerances and coeliac disease. Individuals with food hypersensitivities may experience a limited diet and managing their diet may be more time consuming.
There are two guiding principles with regard to food hypersensitivities:
- Staff and students with food hypersensitivities should have equitable access to all aspects of university life.
- The University should offer an environment where staff and students feel comfortable in disclosing their hypersensitivities, if they want to, not least by promoting allergy and food hypersensitivity awareness.
- What is a Food Allergy?
Food allergies are relatively uncommon, but obviously can be hugely impactful for individuals. With a food allergy, the body’s immune system reacts to certain food by producing antibodies which can cause immediate and sometimes severe symptoms, such as itching or strange metallic taste in the mouth, swelling of the throat and tongue, difficultly if swallowing or speaking, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting and skin hives. In extreme cases, difficulties in breathing and a severe fall in blood pressure (anaphylactic shock), can prove fatal.
- What is Food Intolerance?
Food intolerance does not involve the immune system in the same way and is not usually as severe as a food allergy. Symptoms usually take longer to appear and may include headaches, fatigue and digestive problems.
Food intolerance is harder to diagnose than a food allergy. The person with a known allergen trigger may know what food ingredient will provoke a reaction, however, they may well have eaten this food or a specific dish previously and had no adverse reaction.
- What is Coeliac Disease?
Coeliac disease is a lifelong autoimmune disease caused by a reaction to gluten.
- One in 100 people have the condition.
- Symptoms include bloating, diarrhoea, nausea, wind, constipation, tiredness, sudden or unexpected weight loss, hair loss and anaemia.
- Once diagnosed, it is treated by following a gluten-free diet for life.
- Who is At Risk?
Anybody can develop a food allergy or intolerance at any time in their life, irrespective of whether they have consumed the food previously. A person with an allergy is at risk even if they consume a small amount of the food allergen.
Food allergies and intolerances are life changing. Students and young people living away from home are a vulnerable group who may be at a higher risk if they have allergies.
Common Food Allergens - Food Standards' Agency
In the UK, food businesses and catering establishments must inform customers under food law if they use any of the 14 most potent and prevalent allergens as ingredients in the food and drink that they provide.
The 14 allergens are:
- cereals containing gluten (such as barley and oats)
- crustaceans (such as prawns, crabs and lobsters)
- molluscs (such as mussels and oysters)
- sulphur dioxide and sulphites (at a concentration of more than ten parts per million)
- tree nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts).
This information must be provided whether the food is pre-packed or loose.
- Allergen Information
Allergen information can be provided in a number of ways depending on the type of food purchased.
- "May Contain" and "Not Suitable For"
Food businesses can use phrases such as ‘may contain’ to inform customers that there may be small amounts of an allergen in a food product.
There is no specific legal requirement to label food with ‘may contain’. However, food must be safe to eat and information to help people with allergies make safe choices, and manage their condition effectively, must be provided.
Manufacturers may also choose to mark products as ‘not suitable for’.
When products are marked as ‘may contain’ or not suitable for’, this is known as precautionary allergen labelling. Where you see precautionary allergen labelling, there is a risk of the unintentional presence of the allergen in the food. If you have an allergy, you should not eat food with this labelling.
Allergen cross-contamination can also happen unintentionally when there is a risk that the allergen has entered the product accidentally during the production process. This can happen when several food products are made on the same premises. In this instance, special measures are required.
- Special Measures
To avoid cross-contact / contamination, allergens are stored in separate, labelled containers in designated locations to minimise risk.
Designated equipment, utensils and chopping boards, which are regularly cleaned, are used to prepare allergy friendly meals for customers with food hypersensitivities.
Cleaning and Sanitising:
All equipment used to prepare an allergy friendly meal requires thorough washing with warm, soapy water, rinsing with clean water and drying with a fresh disposable towel.
For more information, visit the Food Standards' Agency (FSA) website
- Students: Registering with Disability Services
For students who have a food hypersensitivity, it is recommended that you register with the University’s Disability Services. This is not compulsory but is needed for the University to provide you with the maximum support. Staff can register their disability with Equality and Diversity (see next section).
It is a relatively simple process for students, involving the following:
- Contact Disability Services, at email@example.com to begin.
- Complete a pre-Registration Questionnaire.
- Upload medical evidence.
- A Disability Officer will arrange an appointment to discuss personal supports.
- A support plan called an Individual Student Support Agreement (ISSA) is completed and communicated to relevant teaching staff.
Here is the link: How to Register: Roadmap
Please note that:
- Students who are returning to study a postgraduate course and who were previously registered with Queen’s University Disability Services need to re-register, as support does not automatically roll over to a new course.
The University recommends that students inform them of any food hypersensitivities at application-stage. Disclosure will not have any bearing on whether a student is offered a place at the University and all information regarding your condition will be treated in strict confidence.
- If you are applying for an undergraduate degree, the easiest way to disclose is to tick the disability box when completing your UCAS form.
- Postgraduate students can disclose their disability on their university application.
- If you’d rather not do this, you can contact Disability Services.
Staff: Informing the University of your Disability
You can register your disability with the University by contacting the Diversity and Inclusion Unit at firstname.lastname@example.org
Full details are given at the webpage below:
- University Responsibilities
The University aims to provide staff and students who have food hypersensitivities with the necessary information to make confident food choices and benefit from the full range of academic, cultural, and social activities that the University offers.
However, it is important for students and staff to take all the necessary precautions they normally take and continue to speak up and inform others about their food hypersensitivity.
Staff are trained and regularly made aware of all procedures outlined above.
- Student Responsibilities
If you have food hypersensitivities, you should do the following:
- Carry your prescribed medication with you at all times on campus and ensure that your medication is in date.
- Register with the University Medical Centre and book an appointment to discuss your allergies with your GP and get some advice on navigating allergies during your time at the University.
- Develop an Emergency Allergy Action Plan (See Section 20).
- Provide information to supervisory / teaching staff and your peers at the start of semester regarding your allergies and ask them not to open any products that contain your allergen.
- Speak directly with catering establishment staff about your allergies prior to ordering food on-site. You may ask them to use clean utensils on a clean surface area when preparing your food, if necessary.
- Check all ingredients and allergen menus when dining out.
- Be careful if ordering tray bakes as any items prepared on-site may contain allergens or other ingredients due to cross contamination in the kitchen.
- When in doubt, contact the Allergy Ambassador at email@example.com with any queries or concerns regarding navigating food hypersensitivities that you may have during your time at the University.
- Ensure that shared desks in the library etc. are cleaned down using wet wipes to clear away any inconspicuous crumbs and spills as they can harbour allergens.
- Eating Out at Catering Establishments on the Campus: Third Party Caterers
When eating out at catering establishments on the University site:
- Check the restaurant’s menu beforehand, if possible.
- Contact the catering establishment in advance to inform them of your food allergies and to ask what meals they would recommend.
- Check all ingredients in the meal that you want to order.
- Be aware of styles of food that traditionally contain your allergen.
- Inform staff taking your order that you have a food allergy so that they can advise kitchen staff and the chef that you have food allergies and to prepare your meal using fresh, clean equipment on a clean surface area to reduce the risk of cross-contact.
- Don’t assume that a certain meal will be okay even if you have eaten it before.
- If you don’t think that the person you are speaking to understands your needs, request to speak with the manager or the chef.
Here are a few ways to start the conversation:
- Can I speak with someone regarding my food allergy?
- I have an allergy to X. Can you cater for this?
- Can I view the allergen information?
- Can I, or can you, speak to the chef about how my meal is prepared?
- Can you make a note about my allergy on my order?
- Eating in University Catering Establishments: Campus Food and Drink
The University catering establishments use ingredient information provided by the supplier and cannot confirm the presence or absence of an allergen or ingredient. Ingredients are regularly reviewed to ensure that labelling is consistent with the information provided by the supplier. However, ingredients and recipes may change so ensure that you review ingredients and allergen information every time you eat out.
Catering staff are trained in Food Safety and Allergen Awareness and follow food safety protocols to ensure that a meal is prepared correctly for individuals with dietary requirements.
Catering staff should:
- Change gloves
- Use clean utensils on a clean surface area
- Follow the recipes and not introduce any additional ingredients that are not indicated on the ingredients list.
Audits are performed to assess recipe adherence and preparation to ensure that all staff are adhering to food safety and allergen guidelines.
Despite these measures, cross-contact can occur in the kitchen and therefore a 100% allergen-free meal cannot be guaranteed.
Please contact the catering establishments directly regarding any queries you have about allergens or ingredients in that particular catering establishment.
There are over 3,400 places in University student accommodation, and it is recognised that a communal kitchen and dining area can lead to some challenges for individuals with food hypersensitivities.
Please ensure that you inform the Accommodation Office about your food hypersensitivity when completing the application form (see screenshot below of area in application form to add medical details etc).
You can give permission for the Accommodation Office to inform all students sharing the kitchen that “a student has a food sensitivity”, and you can choose to have an informative poster in the kitchen as a reminder.
For very severe allergies, the University can provide a separate under counter fridge in your bedroom, if food needs to be kept separate.
Inform the student Residential Assistant who will help to ensure that you feel comfortable in your accommodation. They can:
- Help to inform other students in the accommodation
- Open the conversation about:
- precautions that your flat mates must take to avoid cross-contact
- what to do if you experience symptoms of an allergic reaction
- how to use your adrenaline autoinjector.
The University and particularly Accommodation staff will do their best to ensure that all reasonable precautions are taken, and although they cannot guarantee an allergen-free environment, they are committed to creating an environment where students feel comfortable and have equitable access as far as reasonably possible to all aspects of university life.
- Student Responsibilities in Accommodation
- Keep your cutlery and utensils separate and only use your own cutlery and utensils to reduce the risk of cross-contact.
- Consider labelling your cooking equipment e.g., pots and pans to reduce the risk of cross-contact.
- Speak with your student Residential Assistant regarding any concerns you may have in respect to your accommodation.
- University Lectures, Tutorials and Exams
Following disclosure of your food allergy through Disability Services at the University, your assigned Disability Officer will develop a support plan called an Individual Student Support Agreement (ISSA) and ensure that it is communicated to the relevant teaching staff.
A poster prohibiting eating or drinking during class will be visible in the teaching environment and communicated at the start of the year.
Disability Services may recommend that students with additional support requirements should complete their examination in a separate venue. This provision will be granted when it is deemed appropriate as a result of the candidate's disability.
- Allergy Ambassador
Eimear is a student in Queen’s University Belfast who has personal experience of growing up with food allergies and transitioning to University life. She has developed techniques on how to best manage her allergies while at University, going out with friends and at social events as a student.
She is a patient advocate and is actively involved in allergy organisations and support groups in Ireland and the UK. Eimear is happy to speak with students and staff regarding their food sensitivities and address any concerns that they may have.
“Fuelled by my personal experience of living with allergies and my interest in allergy research, I'm passionate about allergy awareness and helping to improve the quality of life of individuals with hypersensitivities.”
If you have any questions/concerns or want to chat more about your allergies/hypersensitivities while at the University, please feel free to reach out to Eimear, our Allergy Ambassador.
Get in touch with her on firstname.lastname@example.org
Anaphylaxis Campaign - Top Tips for Managing your Allergies during University
See Anaphylaxis Campaign guide for additional tips on how to manage allergies during university.
- Emergency Allergy Action Plan
The following is an example of an Emergency Allergy Action Plan which you can use or share with your friends and housemates: Allergy Action Plan.
- Connect With Us
Office Phone Number Email Address Student Disability Office 028 9097 5250 email@example.com Student Wellbeing Office 028 9097 2893 firstname.lastname@example.org
The Needs' Assessment Centre at
028 9097 5062 email@example.com
The Register of Support Providers at
028 9097 3610 firstname.lastname@example.org QUB Allergy Ambassador email@example.com University Safety Service 028 9097 4612 firstname.lastname@example.org