Ontario universities are reviewing their policies when it comes to food safety and food allergies after the death of 18-year-old Andrea Mariano two weeks ago. Mariano, a student at Queen’s University, went into anaphylactic shock after drinking a smoothie. She died days later in hospital.
In 2005, Sabrina’s Law was passed after Bishop Smith Catholic High School student Sabrina Shannon died from anaphylaxis after eating cafeteria french fries.
The Ministry of Education states Sabrina’s Law “ensures all school boards have policies or procedures in place to address anaphylaxis in schools, which includes providing instruction to staff and guidance on the administration of medication.”
Universities do not have to follow the same protocol because they are under the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities — but after Mariano’s death, York University, Western University and McMaster University are taking a second look at their respective policies.
Even at Ryerson, I have noticed a lack of food allergy policies and procedures. And as someone who has an anaphylactic allergy to peanuts and nuts, it’s something I am faced with every day.
Students with allergies who are looking into living in any of Ryerson’s three residences must fill out an allergy waiver prior to moving in.
But this waiver isn’t necessarily reassuring.
Instead, the waiver removes all responsibility from residence staff and places it solely on the student. Students who sign the waiver must “agree that Ryerson University, Housing & Residence Life and all their respective officials, governors, representatives, employees, volunteers, and other residents are not medically trained and have no life-saving equipment and that the primary responsibility for my welfare remains solely with me.”
Residence staff are required to do first-aid training but there is currently no specific policy or procedure regarding anaphylaxis. Which means if a student goes into anaphylactic shock in their dorm room, they, solely, in the midst of shortness of breath, dizziness and hives, are responsible for stabbing themselves in the leg with an EpiPen, calling 911 and staying alert until emergency responders arrive.
Further, Ryerson Eats’ facilities are not peanut- and nut-free. They do, however, post signage regarding food allergies and label their products with a full list of ingredients.
I know it is incredibly difficult for a university to control every single environment a student with a severe allergy enters, but it cannot be ignored.
I do carry an EpiPen with me and know to let my server know about my allergy. But it does get frustrating when more “trendy” dietary restrictions, like being vegan or vegetarian, are being well accommodated. My restrictions shouldn’t have to suffer in the process.
Andrea Mariano could have easily been me, or anybody on campus with an anaphylactic allergy.
Though it has taken a tragedy like this to serve as a reminder of the severity of anaphylaxis, it is comforting to know some universities are reviewing their policies.
I look forward to seeing whether Ryerson follows suit.