The “Purple Zone” Ahead of the Game

By: Stephany Singh

Did you know that as of 2021, about 20 million people;16 million (6.2%) US adults and 4 million (5.8%) of US children have food allergies?

I am stoked to report that I gained experience testing for the “Big 9 Food Allergens” at the University of Maryland, College Park dining services rotation this spring. This experience helped me expand my knowledge further from the work I did on my last blog about the (9) nine major food allergens. Allow me to walk you through my experience and how I am better equipped to plan and execute a food station while being cognizant of those who may have an allergy. I hope that by reading about my experience, you become empowered to become certified as an allergen tester too.

Have you ever heard of AllerTrain? During my first rotation with the University of Maryland’s College dining services, my colleague and I completed a rigorous 1-hour training to be certified as allergen testers.

The course consisted of multiple modules with a quiz. Each module provided new and intriguing information; from debunking myths to simply realizing how easily cross-contamination happens while being unaware. The experience was both shocking and eye-opening. I am grateful to have been provided with such valuable training.

After the computer training, my colleague and I were able to go to and work in the “Purple Zone.” It is UMD’s secret weapon to ensure their students who have allergies, food sensitivities, or a predisposition/disease (IBS, Crohn’s Disease, etc.) are safe while eating. It was a pleasure to work with the chef and his staff to prepare specific foods for the students. For me, the highlight of the experience was being able to test and confirm the kitchen was truly safe and allergen-free. Chef explained that they do monthly compliance tests/checks to guarantee that the stations are allergen-free. In the kitchen, they either check the foods directly to ensure they do not contain an allergen or multiple allergens, or they test the surfaces to ensure cross-contamination is not occurring. During this test, my colleague and I swabbed the surfaces to check for the nine allergens: eggs, milk, nuts, fish, crustaceans, shellfish, wheat, soy, and sesame. I am happy to report that all of our tests were negative.

The Purple Zone specifically tailors food to each student’s needs and considers those who may have multiple allergens that span beyond the major nine. If this occurs, the chefs often need to prepare separate meals for students. UMD’s Purple Zone was ahead of the game even before the introduction of sesame as the newest allergen. In the future, I too, aim to be a proactive dietitian who remains ahead of emerging trends and research. My goal is to think long-term and create structured strategies that address problems before they occur, quite like UMD did with their PurpleZone, to address the “big 9 allergens”  and all possible food threats to make eating safer for those who need it.

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