It’s crucial to prep, cook and serve with food-allergic customers in mind—even during your busiest shift. It could save lives.
Food allergies are increasingly prevalent among diners, and they present such severe and even life-threatening risks that they now warrant mandated food-allergy training among foodservice professionals across the United States.
It’s estimated that 15 million Americans have food allergies, according to the nonprofit Food Allergy Research and Education. The “Big 8” that are responsible for 90 percent of all allergic responses are: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish.
Diners can also have life-threatening allergic reactions to a variety of other foods, too. That’s why everyone in your restaurant—the owner, chefs, servers and hosts— should take food allergies seriously and engage in training. All employees should be aware of your food allergy protocols. Emphasize to your staff that if a food-allergic guest ingests even a trace amount of their food allergen, it can trigger a reaction—and, in some cases, even death.
To help keep diners safe, staff must know what ingredients are used in every component of every meal on the menu. One of the most important elements of proper food safety protocol is avoiding cross-contact, where proteins from foods containing an allergen are transferred to foods not containing that allergen. An example of this is chopping peanuts on a board and then chopping salad greens on that same board. To avoid cross-contact, boards and other equipment must be properly cleaned and sanitized after preparing any foods.
It’s crucial to note the difference between cross-contact and cross-contamination. Anyone can become ill from cross-contamination if they eat foods that have touched raw meats or poultry. Cross-contact, however, is a relatively new term that is only dangerous for food-allergic guests. Be certain that your staff understands what this new term means and how to prevent it.
It’s easy to make a mistake when serving hundreds of guests on any given evening. But using proper food allergy protocols all the time can help prevent mistakes, so here are some tips to consider:
- Communication is critical among both front-of-house and back-of-house staff. Hosts and servers should always ask if there are any food allergies in the party and, if so, inform the manager and chef.
- Cooks must communicate with each other during the entire cooking and plating process.
- Create a separate workspace in the kitchen to prepare only allergen- free/gluten-free meals.
- Store common food allergens away from other foods.
- Utilize color-coded tools to reduce the risk of cross-contact. Purple is the universal color for allergen-free kitchen utensils.
- Don’t use the same fryer or oil for fries that has been used for breaded fish or foods with nuts.
- When food-allergic guests have questions, the manager or chef should answer them to be certain the information is accurate.
- Be aware of complex allergies beyond dairy-free or gluten-free.
- Serve allergen-free/gluten-free meals on plates that feature different shapes or colors than the rest of the dishware so they can be easily identified by cooks and servers.
- Ensure all dishware is properly washed, rinsed and sanitized prior to reuse.
- Educate entire staff about allergen “aliases.” For instance, whey and casein are dairy products, and semolina contains gluten.
- Be willing to modify dishes for food-allergic guests by using different sauces, sides or ingredients.
- Take advantage of the numerous food-safety classes, webinars and videos that are available online.
With all the things that are happening in a kitchen, food allergy concerns can take a back seat; but it’s essential to properly accommodate each and every food-allergic customer, even during your busiest shifts, to keep diners safe and even save their lives.
With more than 100 combined years of experience, Food Safety Training Solutions Inc. offers consulting, food safety training, food safety inspections and more.