Incorporating allergies into your food safety practices

You're already making sure the foods you serve are properly stored and prepared to avoid problems like contamination and food-borne illnesses. Procedures to protect customers with food allergies can be built into your existing operations without turning your business upside down. Like food safety, an effective food allergy plan involves every aspect of restaurant operations, from the front of the house to the kitchen, from designing the menu to working with suppliers.

A system for handling food allergies begins when a customer announces that he or she has a food allergy and ends when that customer finishes a satisfying meal without incident. In between, information from the customer must be communicated clearly to everyone involved in preparing and serving the meal. Before you begin developing a food allergy prevention plan to better serve your customers, remember a few basics.

Take all food allergies seriously. It's sometimes hard for people who don't have food allergies to understand how scary they can be, and how much trust people with allergies place in restaurants when they go out to dine.

Treat all guests with food allergies with respect and understanding. People with multiple food allergies can come across as "difficult" customers, especially when the restaurant is crowded and the kitchen is working in high gear. It's important to listen to their concerns and respond honestly.

There are no safe shortcuts when accommodating a guest with food allergies. If someone is allergic to eggs, for example, the food you prepare must not contain even traces of egg or be in contact with utensils or surfaces that have made contact with eggs. Even trace amounts of allergens can cause trouble.

Three Dangerous Myths
In a 2006 survey of 100 US dining establishments, researchers at the Elliot and Roslyn Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine identified a list of commonly-held misconceptions among restaurant operators that could prove dangerous. Among them:

  • • 24 per cent believed that consuming small amounts of an allergen is safe. It isn't. Even minute quantities can cause a reaction in sensitive individuals.
  • • 35 per cent believed that fryer heat destroys allergens. It doesn't. Allergic-provoking substances can remain behind in fryer oil to contaminate foods, for example.
  • • 25 per cent believed it was safe to remove an allergen such as shellfish or nuts from a finished meal. It's not. Trace amounts left behind when food or plates have made contact with allergens can cause trouble.

Source: Culinary Institute of America