University dining and student health partner up to bring EpiPens to campus

Staff Reporter

Across the nation, food allergies are on the rise. 

According to Food Allergy Research and Education, a nonprofit organization focused on food allergy awareness and advocacy, approximately 33 million Americans have a food allergy, with over half of adults having experienced a “severe reaction” at some point in their lifetime. 

With that in mind, university dining and student health have partnered to install epinephrine injectors, commonly referred to as EpiPens, in all residential dining halls along with student center food courts. 

“Placing EpiPens in dining halls ensures quick access in case of emergencies,” Cherie Ward, the director of nursing at Student Health Services, said. “This potentially can save a student or staff member’s life.”

EpiPens are used to help block the progression of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction that can worsen in a matter of minutes following the consumption of a common allergen. 

Typical anaphylaxis symptoms include swelling, wheezing, shortness of breath and difficulty swallowing; however, it has the potential to progress into an individual losing consciousness.

The nine top allergens are peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, soy, milk, wheat, egg and sesame.

A total of eight sets, each containing two EpiPen injectors, are available on campus. They can be found either in unlocked, red-colored kits or in transparent lockboxes, depending on the dining location. 

Nadya Ellerhorst/THE REVIEW

“Food safety is pretty critical, especially when you’re serving so many different people with different food preferences and backgrounds,” Kristen Huang, the co-president of the Nutrition and Dietetics Club, said. “EpiPens would be beneficial to prevent anyone from getting a serious health risk from eating something by accident.” 

All dining halls have menu cards displayed at each food station, which list an item’s ingredients and any possible allergens to help students know what they are eating. 

According to Ward, allergy-dedicated dining stations, both True Balance and Allergy and Gluten Free Solutions, are located in Pencader and Caesar Rodney dining halls.

“We have these pre-service meetings before we start serving and all the employees review the top nine allergens and list off what meals are being prepared for the day,” Eve Doyle, a former Dining Services employee and president of the Nutrition and Disabilities Club, said. “Employees have been very well trained in allergy prevention.”

The installation of EpiPen injectors at the university was made possible as a result of Senate Bill 55, which was signed by Delaware Gov. John Carney in August of 2021. 

The bill allows all institutions of higher education across the First State to acquire and supply a stock of epinephrine injectors, as long as employees have undergone a training program, something that Dining Services has been completing over the past few months. 

“A policy was written to address Delaware code requirements, proper medication storage, training requirements and to create maintenance documentation,” Ward, who also serves as Student Health Services’ associate director of medical operations, said. 

In addition to employee instruction, the university is offering EpiPen training to all students, helping ensure they are comfortable using an injector in the event of an allergy emergency.

This began as a result of two incidents where students were unaware of the symptoms of anaphylaxis and were too afraid to give themselves a dose of epinephrine, Ward said. 

“I think it is important for students to know how to use it,” Katie Rippon, the other co-president of the Nutrition and Dietetics Club, said. “Even though students that are known to have these reactions are told to carry one with them, that may not always be the case.” 

During training sessions, students are able to experiment with a model EpiPen injector that does not contain any medication, learn how to advocate for themselves at restaurants when dealing with food allergy concerns and develop a deeper understanding of their personal dietary needs.

Students are also taught the difference between a non-life-threatening allergic reaction and anaphylaxis, along with how to call for help following an epinephrine injection. 

The sessions are offered by Student Health Services in both the fall and spring semesters on specific dates, in either group or one-on-one settings. 

“Awareness contributes to a community that prioritizes the health and safety and the well-being of students, which is what we are all here for,” Ward said.