Multiple Canadian universities reviewing policies after student dies from allergic reaction

Queen’s University's Andrea Mariano, 18, from Thornhill, Ont. Ms. Mariano, a first-year student died at Kingston General Hospital on Sept. 18. Facebook

In light of the tragic death of a first-year student at Queen’s University last week, other universities across the country said they are reviewing and reinforcing food safety and food allergy policies and practices.

“We know how badly a student death impacts everyone, so our heart goes out to them,” said Doug Dawson, Associate Vice President, Ancillary Services at the University of Alberta. The U of A responded quickly to the tragic news by reviewing its policies and holding meetings with food service providers.

At U of A students meet with a campus chef to discuss safe food items and “other students where conditions are more severe we accommodate them in apartments, often with other students with similar conditions. A lot of work goes on to make sure they are safe,” said Dawson.

Global News contacted a dozen universities to find out if the institutions are responding to the death an undergraduate student, by evaluating their own food and dining services.

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Queen’s student Andrea Mariano died Friday after suffering a severe anaphylactic attack from a smoothie she bought on campus on Tuesday, according to her family.

The 18-year-old, described as a “friend to everyone,” was allergic to milk and deathly allergic to peanuts, Andrea’s cousin Hedellaine Valentin told Global News.

Valentin also said Andrea always made all food service staff aware of her allergies.

“She was very meticulous. She never allowed anyone to order for her,” Valentin told Global News.

Andrea was rushed to Kingston General Hospital and died days later on Sept. 18. Her family said, “she was admitted following an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts”.

Her tragic death has raised concerns about allergies, food handling, and cross-contamination.

READ MORE: Canadian student dies after ordering smoothie on campus; suffers severe allergic reaction: family

Premier Kathleen Wynne would not speak about this particular case, when asked during a visit to the International Plowing Match in Finch, Ont., but said food allergies are a growing concern at schools and in the community at large.

“We need to make sure that wherever people are buying food or consuming food that that food is being handled the right way. We have strict regulations in place across the province and nationally quite frankly, so we need to make sure that every institution is looking at evolving concerns around food allergies,” Premier Wynne said.

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London, Ontario’s Western University said in a statement that “the director of hospitality services has requested that all unit managers and the university nutritionist review Western’s procedures.”

Ingredient lists are available and Western’s nutritionist meets with any student who has food allergies to go over the menu, and to guide the student about who to speak with in their residence.

York University in Toronto told Global News that the institution is “reinforcing with our tenants the importance of signage and staff training as part of our ongoing efforts.”

Adding that “allergies are a constant concern and eateries on campus post allergy notices as best they can…We encourage students with severe allergies or dietary restrictions to contact us so we can work with them to meet their needs as best we can, or find other appropriate accommodations.”

Communications staff at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario said they recently trained 400 staff on allergy awareness.

They also said they help students with allergies identify the best places to eat on campus and encourage them to speak with a chef about their allergies.

Staff at the University of Winnipeg said all food is made on-site so chefs can identify all ingredients and work with students who suffer from food allergies.

The University of Calgary reached out to its students directly by creating a new poster about food allergies that was distributed widely around campus, as well as informing students in a residence newsletter. In addition, U of C met with its food providers this week confirming guidelines are clear and comprehensive surrounding food allergies.

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Not all universities Global News contacted clarified if their institutions are examining policies in light of the tragedy at Queen’s.

READ MORE: First-year Canadian university student dies of severe allergic reaction

Laurie Harada, executive director of Food Allergy Canada, said young people on campuses who have food allergies need to be their own advocate, communicate their food allergies and carry emergency epinephrine, but they also need support and care from food providers and institutions.

“Sometimes other people make mistakes for you, so there have been cases where people do check food, do warn others, but something goes wrong. Something gets overlooked. Something is not understood and that triggers the reaction,” Harada said.

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