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A Texas First: UNT Opens Nation's First Allergen-Free Collegiate Dining Hall

DENTON, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) - The University of North Texas has opened a new dining hall that's completely free of the most common food allergens.

It's the first of its kind in Texas, and only the second allergen-free collegiate dining hall in the nation.

"When I was first introduced to the challenge, I was thinking how am I going to do this?" said Amber McNeill, one of the chef supervisors at Kitchen West.

An allergen-free dining experience means no gluten, dairy, eggs, wheat, fish, peanuts, tree nuts, soy and shellfish.

"Like instead of using milk or cream, we use plant-based products," McNeill said.

Chefs had to get creative to make sure they're not sacrificing flavor by getting rid of such common ingredients.

"I really don't think people would be able to tell the difference," said Emma Lara, a UNT freshman who is lactose intolerant.

Eating out is normally a struggle for her and her friend Maddie Westmoreland, who is allergic to wheat and gluten.

"The first time I came in here, I was like oh my gosh," Westmoreland said. "I was overwhelmed by how many choices I had, but it was really nice."

They can eat at Kitchen West without fear anything will make them feel sick or cause an allergic reaction.

"I definitely see it as a trend that's going to be picking up some momentum at colleges and universities," said Peter Balabuch, executive director of UNT Dining Services.

UNT allergen-free dining hall
UNT allergen-free dining hall (Caroline Vandergriff - CBS 11)

Kitchen West is open to everybody on campus. It's also part of the meal plan, so it's not any more expensive than the other dining options.

The allergen-free dining hall isn't UNT's first specialty cafeteria.

In 2011, the university opened the nation's first all-vegan collegiate dining hall.

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