Valerie is a Nima College Ambassador studying at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Valerie has been a leader in allergy advocacy work for young adults since being diagnosed with celiac disease in 2015.
Vanderbilt University has always strived to have a world-class allergy program. From AllerTrained chefs to a special meal ordering program, and even a top 8 allergen-free cafe, students with allergies or Celiac Disease have near-limitless options at Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt’s recent partnership with Nima is yet another step Vanderbilt is taking to better the safety and security of students with food allergies.
I have been a Nima user since January of 2018. As I first began to use the sensor, I often talked with Vanderbilt Dining about bringing Nima to campus. I thought Nima would be a great way to give students with allergies peace of mind. In the Fall of 2018, Vanderbilt officially partnered with Nima, bringing both the peanut and gluten sensors to our four main dining halls.
I had the honor of training the Vanderbilt chefs and managers on how to use the Nima. One of the main things I wanted to highlight was Nima’s sensitivity. Starting with a control sampled of pre-packaged gluten-free bread, I demonstrated the size of the sample, how to load the capsule, and the overall testing process. After the gluten-free bread test resulted in a smiley-face, I wanted to show the dining team the different ways that Nima could register cross contamination.
First, we started by adding a crouton to a gluten-free soup and then testing the soup. Of course, the Nima picked up that it was not gluten-free and displayed the wheat symbol. For another test, we took a saltine cracker and rubbed it on some broccoli, and then put the broccoli in the sensor. Once again, the Nima was able to detect the gluten. Finally, we had a chef crumble saltine crackers in his hands and brush the crumbs away. Then, using his contaminated hands, he tested a sample of gluten-free food, resulting in a wheat symbol. The Vanderbilt allergy team was incredibly impressed with the Nima sensor’s accuracy, and they were implemented in our four dining halls the following week.
Since the Nima’s start at Vanderbilt, we’ve had a huge success. When a student with a peanut or gluten allergy orders a meal as part of Vanderbilt’s allergen meal ordering system, the meal is prepared separately to be free of cross-contamination and is then tested with Nima. This testing occurs before the student even arrives in the dining hall to ensure that as soon as the student walks up, they can take their certified-safe meal. However, students who want an extra verification can also run an additional Nima test on their meal when they arrive at the dining hall.
This has been remarkably impactful, not only for my own dining experience, but for all of the students with food allergies who benefit from another safeguard in place. As a college student, it can be scary to have to put your trust in someone else for 3 meals a day, 7 days a week. Having the Nima to scientifically validate the safety of meals truly brings peace of mind.
I’m endlessly grateful to the Vanderbilt dining team and all of the individual chefs and managers for taking the time to understand the Nima sensor, undergo Nima training, and for continuing to do everything in their power to ensure the safety and security of students with food allergies.
To be able to walk into the dining hall and know that, not only has my meal been prepared free of cross-contamination by a trained and dedicated allergy team, but that it has already been verified and tested as gluten-free with Nima, is invaluable, and something that I am thankful for every day.
I’m able to enjoy my dining experience with the safety and peace of mind of any other college student, and I owe all of that to Nima and Vanderbilt’s phenomenal dining program.
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