The Importance of Being Food Allergy Safe
Dairy, eggs, soy, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat: Does your restaurant include in part or in whole any of these items? With these eight simple allergens accounting for over 90% of allergic reactions, chances are, at least one of these ingredients can be found on your menu, creating a potential hazard for some of your customers! Food Safety and Inspection Service reports that 2% of adults and 4-8% of children in the United States are affected by food allergies, creating a common and yet often confusing hazard for your restaurant. By knowing the basics of food allergies - the common culprits, what causes a reaction, and symptoms of an allergic reaction - as well as how to ensure your restaurant is a safe environment for sufferers, your customers and staff can retain trust through safety when dealing with potential food-related allergies.
What is a food allergy, and what are the symptoms of an allergic reaction? In short, a food allergy is the body’s allergic response to a type of food, wherein one’s immune system releases antibody’s as an improper response to harmless foods. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include: hives, rash, itching, coughing, dizziness, swelling, difficulty breathing, and potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis. Epinephrine, injected via EpiPen during the beginning stages of anaphylaxis, can help prevent serious consequences. Because there is no cure, taking preventative measures is top priority for food-allergy sufferers.
How can you restaurant reduce the risk for a food-allergy sufferer? The supervisor/manager should set up food-allergy procedures for the staff and conduct in-service training. New employees should receive food-allergy training before they have contact with any patients. Periodic in-service training sessions on the topic are recommended.More than 160 foods can cause allergic reactions. By properly educating your staff on the most common of these allergens and ensuring that they know which menu item includes them, your restaurant can be prepared to answer questions about the potentially hazardous ingredients in any given menu item. Similarly, any food product with two or more ingredients is required by the FDA to list the ingredients. Having these lists available for your staff can ensure that, even for the food-allergy sufferer with a rare allergy, your employees know where to find the ingredients in your offered dishes. Similarly, always identify on the menu when something contains a common allergen, and, if the item itself doesn’t contain that allergen, whether or not it was prepared in a kitchen that also uses the allergen. This will help reduce the risk for severe sufferers!
What is required of restaurants in regards to food safety and allergies? Even the most sanitary of kitchens can put an allergy sufferer at risk due to ‘cross contact’, wherein residual amounts of an allergen can make its way into a dish through contaminated preparation. Trace amounts of an allergen can make its way into a processing line through shared equipment. Train your staff to understand the importance of preparing meals completely separate for an allergic customer. Always use a new pair of gloves during preparation, and ensure that your dishes have been thoroughly washed. Any food preparation equipment used needs to be completely sanitized before preparing a dish for food-allergy sufferers. With the risks of severe symptoms for a person with food allergies, a safe kitchen is of the utmost importance.
All in all, being upfront and knowledgeable is key. Consider adding a special menu for people with common food allergies, as this could open the door for customers who normally wouldn’t come to a restaurant due to their allergies! Your success is solely dependent on the happiness of your customers; Ensure they are both safe and satisfied!