Food Allergies and Special Diets

Cal Dining is committed to helping our customers meet their dietary needs. Whether you have food allergies, gluten intolerance or dietary restrictions from religious practices, are following a vegan/vegetarian diet, or simply need assistance with your food selections, Cal Dining is here help you make safe and delicious choices.

Students with specific question can schedule an one-on- one meeting with our Registered Dietitian to discuss your dietary needs. Please email to make an appointment.  In the meantime, students in need of housing accommodation due to special dietary needs (i.e. severe food allergies, Celiac disease) are encouraged to reach out to Cal Housing Accommodations Coordinator as well as to the campus Disabled Students’ Program.

Food Allergies

A food allergy is defined as a disorder of the body's immune response to specific food proteins. Food allergy symptoms range from mild to severe. The most severe allergic reaction is anaphylaxis — a life-threatening whole-body allergic reaction that can impair breathing, cause a dramatic drop in blood pressure, and affect heart rate. Anaphylaxis can manifest within minutes of exposure to the trigger food. It can be fatal and must be treated promptly with an injection of epinephrine (adrenaline). Comprehensive information about food allergies can be found at Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) website. Cal Dining is a member of the FARE College Food Allergy Program.

Cal Dining strives to serve food that is safe to our customers. We understand that any type of food can potentially trigger an allergic reaction, but as identified by Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) organization, only 8 foods account for 90 percent of all allergic reactions in the United States. These foods include the following: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish. To help our customers with food allergy and/or intolerance to browse and choose safely, the Big-8 allergens are listed on the menu signage in units and the online menu. In addition, we also list sesame, gluten, pork, and alcohol.

Our menu signage in the dining commons and campus restaurants, as well as ingredients listed on product packages at our retail locations, are resources for you to identify these allergens. Please take the time to read the allergen signage at our locations and on our website. Note that the advisory labeling (i.e., precautionary statements such as “may contain,” “processed in a facility that also processes,” or “made on equipment with”) by manufacturers is not being considered for the labeling of allergens on our menus. Please find more information related to each of the big 8 allergens below:

  • Peanuts:
    • Peanut allergy is the most common and differs from tree nuts. The difference between the two is that peanuts are a legume crop and grow underground, whereas tree nuts grow on trees and include nuts such as almonds, cashews, and walnuts. Severe reactions to peanuts do not usually occur through casual contact. Reactions are mostly triggered if peanuts come into contact with the eyes, nose, or mouth area. If your body accidently comes in contact with a peanut-containing food, wash that area immediately and keep it away from the eyes, nose, and mouth.
    • As a general practice, Cal Dining avoids the use of peanuts as an ingredient in our recipes, or chooses to serve peanut on the side instead of mixing it in the dishes. Peanuts are labeled as an allergen on our menu signage if a food or recipe is known to contain peanuts or peanut derivatives.
  • Tree Nuts:
    • Tree nuts include some of the following nuts: walnut, almond, pecan, hazelnut, cashew, pistachio, macadamia, chestnut, and Brazil nut. These differ from legumes (peanut, soybean) and seeds (sunflower or sesame). A person with a specific tree nut allergy may be at higher risk of developing an allergy to another tree nut.
    • Use of tree nuts in Cal Dining recipes is sparse. And when possible, we choose to serve tree nuts on the side.  Tree nuts are labeled if a food or recipe is known to contain tree nuts or their derivatives. Our menu labels tree nuts as a group without identifying the individual type, and we advise our customers with specific tree nut allergies to avoid all tree nuts no matter what type you are allergic to.
  • Milk:
    • A milk allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to a specific protein in the milk that leads to mild to severe symptoms such as rashes, hives, breathing difficulty, and even loss of consciousness. Milk allergy is often confused with lactose intolerance, but lactose intolerance does not involve the immune system and occurs when you lack the enzyme lactase. Symptoms for lactose intolerance include nausea, cramps, gas, bloating, and diarrhea. This condition is generally not life threatening, whereas an allergy can be.
    • Milk is labeled as an allergen on Cal Dining’s menu signage if a food or recipe is known to contain milk, other dairy products, or milk derivatives.
  • Egg:
    • Although it is the egg white that typically contains the allergenic proteins. Due to likelihood of cross-contact, customers with egg allergy are advised to avoid eggs altogether.
    • Eggs are labeled as an allergen on Cal Dining’s menu signage if a food or recipe is known to contain egg or egg derivatives.
  • Wheat:
    • A wheat allergy can present a challenge because wheat is a predominant grain in the standard American diet. A wheat allergy should not be confused with gluten intolerance and celiac disease. Wheat allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to specific wheat protein. Celiac disease a digestive disease for which the only treatment is a diet free of gluten, found in wheat, rye, and barley.
    • For customers with a wheat allergy and/or gluten intolerance, you may enjoy alternative grains such as oat (oatmeal) and rice, which are also mainstays at Cal Dining. Wheat is labeled as an allergen on Cal Dining’s menu signage if a food or recipe is known to contain wheat or wheat derivatives. Gluten is labeled separately in addition to wheat.
  • Soy:
    • The soybean is a member of the legume family. Other legumes include beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts. Having an allergy to soybean does not make you more susceptible to developing an allergy to another legume.
    • Soy based foods including tofu and soymilk are mainstays in Cal Dining locations as a vegan source of protein. Soy is labeled as an allergen on Cal Dining’s menu signage if a food or recipe is known to contain soy or soy derivatives.
  • Fish:
    • Finned fish can cause severe allergic reactions. Salmon, tuna, and halibut are the most common kinds of finned fish that cause allergy. More than half of all people who are allergic to one type of fish are also allergic to other fish, so allergists often advise their fish-allergic patients to avoid all fish. Finned fish and shellfish do not come from related families of foods, so being allergic to one does not necessarily mean that you must avoid both.
    • Sustainable seafood, primarily finned fish, are served in Cal Dining locations daily.  Fish is labeled if a food or recipe is known to contain fish or fish derivatives. Our menu labels fish as a group without identifying the individual type, and we advise our customers to avoid all fish no matter what type you are allergic to.
  • Shellfish:
    • There are two kinds of shellfish: crustacean (such as shrimp, crab, and lobster) and mollusks (such as clams, mussels, oysters, and scallops). Reactions to crustacean shellfish tend to be particularly severe. If you are allergic to one group of shellfish, you might still be able to eat some varieties from the other group. However, since most people who are allergic to one kind of shellfish usually are allergic to other types, allergists usually advise their patients to avoid all varieties.
    • The most common shellfish served at Cal Dining is shrimp. Shellfish is labeled if a food or recipe is known to contain shellfish or derivatives. Our menu labels shellfish as a group without identifying the individual type, and we advise our customers to avoid all shellfish no matter what type you are allergic to.

Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance

Gluten is a protein found primarily in wheat, barley and rye. Celiac disease is a disorder caused by an autoimmune reaction to gluten ingestion. Gluten intolerance is sometimes confused with Celiac disease or a food allergy, but is a different condition. Common symptoms of gluten intolerance include gassiness, abdominal pain or diarrhea. Both Celiac disease and gluten intolerance can be treated by avoiding gluten.

Gluten is found in many foods and is often a hidden ingredients in food recipes, so special care must be taken to avoid gluten. To help our customers with gluten intolerance/Celiac disease to browse and choose safely, gluten is listed on the menu signage in Cal Dining locations and on the online menu.

Religious Dietary Restrictions

Certain religious practices restrict dietary intake and necessitate close attention to recipe ingredients. The most commonly restricted foods are certain types of meat, fish, and dairy.

To help our customers with religious dietary restrictions to browse and choose with ease, the following foods/ingredients are listed on our menu signage at all Cal Dining and residential and retail locations: alcohol, pork and dairy (milk), among which milk is listed as an allergen. If your religious or cultural customs require close attention to diet, please review the menu signage carefully and ask for help from staff if you have additional questions or requests.


Food choices are made for many different reasons, including cultural, emotional, economical, religious, ethical, environmental and personal health. For those who choose to follow a vegetarian diet (no meat or fish) or vegan diet (no animal products of any kind, including meat, eggs and dairy), Cal Dining offers a variety of daily selections to meet your vegetarian and vegan diet needs at all of our locations.

To help our customers following vegan/vegetarian diets choose with ease, vegan and vegetarian items on our menu are marked clearly as VG and V on our menu signage, representing Vegan and Vegetarian respectively.  Please review the menu signage carefully and ask for help from staff if you have additional questions or requests.

Whatever choices you make regarding meat and animal product consumption, you can never go wrong with eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Include all colors of fruits and vegetables when you can!


Have food allergies or other dietary restrictions?

Please be advised of the following when dining with us:

BE AWARE: Always read the allergen labels placed on menu items. When in doubt, always ask a staff member.

BE PREPARED: Schedule an appointment with our dietitian, Jaylene Tang, MS. RD by emailing She will meet with you individually to learn your dietary needs, and connect you with the chef in charge of the preparation of your meals. You may also download, complete, and return the Food Allergy and Special Diet Notification Form to her. If you are prescribed medications or epinephrine injectors for food allergies, please carry them with you at all times.

BE HEALTHY: Consult with our dietitian to make your food selections safely and easily. She can provide guidance on nutritional information as well as recipes for the dining commons.

Read more about how to manage your food allergies while on a meal plan at Cal on our resources page!


Please Note:

Cal Dining makes every effort to identify ingredients that may trigger allergic or other adverse reactions for individuals with food allergies or intolerance. Our staff is trained and educated on food allergies and gluten-free diets on an ongoing basis and they ensure that items marked gluten friendly are made without gluten-containing ingredients. However, due to the volume of meals served and items used each day along with food product changes from our vendors, we cannot guarantee that every allergen or gluten source in the food served will be identified and labeled. There is a small possibility that, without notice to us, manufacturers of the commercial foods we use can change the formulation at any time. Cross contact may also occur despite our best efforts to prevent it. Customers concerned with food allergens and gluten must be aware of these risks. Cal Dining cannot assume any liability for adverse reactions to food consumed, or items one may come in contact with while eating at any Cal Dining facility or catered event. Customers with life threatening food allergies in need of an epinephrine injection should be carrying their own injectors at all times. Cal Dining staff is NOT trained to administer epinephrine and CANNOT provide or administer them.