At the start of the 2016 academic year, Kent State University became the first university in the country to feature an entirely gluten-free dining hall on campus.
KSU restructured Prentice Cafe after administrators noticed that the number of students arriving on campus with gluten intolerance was rising each year. The new dining facility will meet the ever-increasing demand for gluten-free foods.
An estimated 3 million Americans suffer from celiac disease, a genetic autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive process. When a person who has celiac disease consumes gluten, the individual's immune system attacks the small intestine and inhibits the body's ability to absorb important nutrients.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. It is essential for those with celiac disease and sensitivity to gluten to avoid products containing these ingredients.
Some individuals who have not been diagnosed with an allergy or sensitivity to gluten also choose to restrict their gluten intake as a personal preference.
Although many campuses offer gluten-free products and some even offer gluten-free stations in their dining halls, Kent State is the first campus to offer an entire dining hall that is certified gluten-free.
"Students' needs have always been our top priority," said Rich Roldan, director of university dining services at Kent State. "Students have enough to worry about -- they should not have to worry about their food being safe to eat. It is important they can eat in a safe environment, which is why we decided to make Prentice Cafe a gluten-free dining location."
Prentice Cafe earned certification from the Gluten-Free Food Services Certification Program, a food safety program offered through the Gluten Intolerance Group. The Gluten Intolerance Group is a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering the gluten-free community through consumer support, advocacy and education.
Although gluten intolerance has gained attention in recent years, it can still be challenging to address the needs of students who have celiac disease or sensitivity to gluten. One issue is students' reluctance to self-identify as gluten intolerant. Students are sometimes self-conscious about special dietary needs and often prefer not to feel singled out when dining on campus. This was something administrators considered when developing Prentice Cafe.
"It's important for students who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance to be able to have a safe location where they can go and not have to worry," explained Megan Brzuski, Kent State's dining services dietitian. "There are many different menu items and options available for students to choose from at Prentice Cafe."
Prentice Cafe is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Fridays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. In addition to every item being gluten-free, the menu also features a variety of vegan and vegetarian dishes, as well as foods that support a healthy lifestyle. The cafe accepts meal plans, cash and credit cards.
Prentice Cafe opened on Aug. 29, the first day of the fall semester. A grand opening celebration will be held on Sept. 7 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.