Allergy Awareness Makes Good Business Sense

Chefs are not happy to hear the words “The customer is allergic.” To some, this means the customer is being picky. To others, it means they must go and talk with the customer and discuss their order in great detail. Why does it make sense to be allergy aware?

I have noticed an increase in allergic individuals in restaurants who are demanding allergen-free menu items and not receiving them. Not only does the allergic person sometimes end up with a cross-contaminated food, but are also not taken seriously by the restaurant staff. Imagine if you were an allergic customer attending a banquet. If you let the catering staff know ahead of time that you have an allergy to dairy products, for example, chances are that the staff will do everything possible to prepare your food separately and free of cross-contamination. However, if you show up at the banquet and then notify the staff, it puts the caterers in a difficult situation unless they have some allergen-free meals already prepared for someone like yourself who didn’t let them know. There was a case of a 6-year-old girl who ate at a restaurant with her parents and ordered chili. The waiter was informed by the parents that their daughter was allergic to sulphites and could the restaurant check on the chili ingredients. The chef very kindly brought the can to the table but sulphites were not listed on the ingredient label. The girl ate the chili, went into anaphylactic shock, was rushed to hospital and died. Everyone could not understand how this had happened. When the ingredient listing was traced back to the manufacturer, it was found that the kidney beans from the original supplier contained sulphites. However, this was not listed on the can. If this restaurant had been allergy aware, they would have provided either a binder or an ingredient listing of menu items on their computer to the parents which would have mentioned the possibility of sulphites in the canned chili. Sometimes, ingredients are hidden in foods. For example, if the ingredient label lists natural flavours, MSG (monosodium glutamate) may be included. If you are trying to avoid MSG, you need to know this as natural flavours are listed on many products. If your restaurant staff are educated on allergy awareness, you will attract customers who will dine at your establishment because you take their allergies seriously. You will find this in the health food industry which provides many varieties of healthy foods that are wheat-free, gluten-free, pesticide-free, etc.

Allergies are tough for restaurants to handle as the customer does not always notify staff. However, when presented with an allergic individual, especially one who suffers from anaphylactic shock, the best procedure is to prepare their menu item totally separate using clean utensils and equipment. By avoiding cross-contamination, the risk of the reaction will be reduced.

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ENVIRO-FOOD CONSULTING is a foodservice consulting business run by Sally de la Rue Browne, Certified Public Health Inspector and Food Safety Specialist.

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