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September 29, 2017

First ‘gluten-friendly’ accreditation in student halls recognised

WELLINGTON’s Victoria University is the first tertiary institution to achieve Coeliac accreditation in New Zealand, thanks to a partnership between Compass Group New Zealand (Compass) and Coeliac New Zealand (Coeliac NZ).

Compass provides food and support services to the university’s six Halls of Residence. The company partnered with Coeliac NZ in 2016, to achieve gluten-free accreditation through independent auditing company SGS in August 2017.

“Compass caters for residents with a range of allergies and intolerances. We have robust allergen management systems in place, but working with Coeliac NZ as part of its Dining Out programme enabled us to further sharpen our focus on gluten management,” says Compass Group Dietitian Margaret Thorson, adding that 20% of residents have a special dietary requirement; of these 12% require gluten-free meals.

“Providing safe food for residents is essential for their wellbeing and the success of their studies. The programme has given us added confidence around managing safe gluten-free food service throughout our kitchens and dining halls.”

As part of the programme, each member of the Compass team – from dietitians, to site managers and front-of-house employees – collaborated to review practices on the food preparation ‘journey’. This included delivery, storage, food preparation, cleaning, servery and communication. They also completed the Coeliac NZ online training focusing on gluten management.

“Whenever we saw opportunity for improvement we would implement change. We have the advantage of working as a cluster of six sites at the same time, so if we see a potential improvement at one site, we can easily roll it out to other sites.”

The programme also increased awareness around managing ingredients and food containing gluten. Innovations included: practical, hands-on training; improving / changing storage of opened food items to reduce risk of cross-contamination; improving communication with residents – who ‘self-serve’ – to improve their understanding of how their practices impact on peers with allergies and coeliac disease.

“A self-ser vice catering system has a higher risk of cross-contamination. Encouraging residents to respect the established gluten-free areas, and to avoid taking special dishes or foods provided, is as important as any other step in our process.

“This assurance is crucial for people with coeliac disease, for whom a totally gluten-free diet is essential not only to avoid symptoms such as fatigue, nausea and an irritable bowel, but potentially lifelong chronic illness such as osteoporosis, neurological issues, and liver disease.”

Coeliac New Zealand General Manager, Dana Alexander, says the organisation is incredibly proud of the work done with Compass to offer safe gluten-free dining at Victoria University Halls of Residence, which helps take away one of the biggest challenges for people living with coeliac disease – eating meals they haven’t prepared themselves.

“Our Dining Out Programme provides the food service industry with the knowledge and skills to prepare safe gluten-free food, free from the risk of cross-contamination via utensils or food-prep surfaces. They can confidently tell customers they’re delivering a reliably excellent gluten-free dining experience,” she says.

Looking ahead, Compass aims to share the initiative’s successes across its other national sites as part of the company’s Allergen Management Working Group’s focus.

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