Food allergies are on the rise, and an estimated 15 million Americans are affected, including 5.9 million children under age 18. Adult onset food allergies are increasing. With these alarming statistics, it's essential to consider how your establishment is prepared to handle the guest experience for these millions of Americans.
Have a Plan
First of all, an allergen management plan needs to be in place. Servers and managers need to clearly communicate with the kitchen and know: what meals to recommend for food allergy sufferers, how to keep specially prepared meals separate and safe from contamination, and how to properly communicate to guests that their dish will be prepared in a safe way. Honesty is key in building trust. If a particular allergen is heavily present in your kitchen (i.e. soy or sesame in an Asian restaurant, it might make sense to state that it would be very difficult to eliminate cross-contact).
Know Your Menu Inside And Out
Servers and managers need to know which menu items contain the Top Eight allergens (milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy). But did you know any food has the potential to cause a life-threatening reaction? It is important to take food allergies seriously, even when the food seems obscure or uncommon. Other common allergens that do not fall into the Top Eight are buckwheat, celery, lupin, molluscan shellfish, mustard, and seeds like sesame, sunflower, and poppy.
In addition to knowing which menu items contain the allergen, it is important to know what foods are prepared in the same areas of the kitchen to avoid a reaction from cross-contact. Cross-contact is when the proteins of an allergen mix with other foods or touch the same surfaces as other foods. Food allergy orders should be prepared separate from all areas where the allergen is present in the kitchen. And guests need to be made aware if this separation is not possible so that they can make an informed choice about what to order and whether to eat at your establishment.
If a server is unsure of ingredients or where allergens are prepared in the kitchen, he or she should ask the manager. Similarly, if a customer has any hesitation about the safety of a dish, a manager or chef should be brought to the table to discuss the guests's concerns.
A good safety measure when dealing with food allergies is to have more than one person check ingredient lists and menu items, to be sure that an allergen is not missed. Also be transparent. If your establishment uses any pre-made foods (school cafeterias, for example), it might make sense to have your guests read the ingredient labels directly.
There is a level of trust required on the part of the food allergic customer, and every effort should be made to communicate how the kitchen prepares food, how equipment and prep areas are cleaned and sanitized, and how food allergens are tracked from order to delivery.
Track Food Allergy Orders from Beginning to End
Servers and kitchen staff need to know which menu items contain the Top Eight allergens and how to avoid cross contamination in the kitchen. Procedures need to be put in place for prep areas, utensils, and equipment. Separate fryers and oils should be used when preparing foods for food allergic customers.
The same principles for avoiding cross-contamination with raw meats can be applied to food allergens. Cutting boards, knives, and anything food touches need to be cleaned and sanitized before being used to prepare an order for a person with a food allergy.
Color-coding can be one way your kitchen minimizes risk for food allergic guests.
Introducing Allergen Pans from Chicago Metallic
Chicago Metallic now offers colored allergen pans for applications from pizza to hamburgers to cakes and more. Colors make allergens easy to identify, and the nonstick surface allows for easier cleaning to ensure all food proteins are removed between uses.
The bottom line is paying attention to allergies can be a big business decision, and it can lead to more repeat business from customers who are loyal to your attention to detail. Dealing with food allergies requires careful consideration, and Chicago Metallic helps make this easier.
We encourage you to learn more about products to help you manage food allergies in your kitchen. Schedule some time to come into our test kitchen at your convenience to get a complete demonstration.