Operations – Food Allergies

Food allergies, it seems, are on the rise.  A highly complex phenomenon, allergies and their increased incidence are a puzzling problem.  It is widely accepted that in the U.S. about 1.5 percent of adults and 6 percent of children under age three have food allergies.  Although this sounds like a small number, in real numbers, these statistics add up to about 4 million people.

What’s to explain this increase in allergies over the last few years?  A leading theory is that repetitive, high dose consumption of similar foods on a consistent basis – in addition to the preservatives, food coloring agents, flavor enhancers and antibiotics – all create an environment in which the immune system begins to react against these conditions.  For people with food allergies, some of the most common ingredients in your kitchen pose big health risks.  Adults are most commonly allergic to shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, eggs, and milk.  In pediatrics, the most common allergenic foods, called the “Big 8” are eggs, milk, peanuts, soy, wheat, tree nuts, shellfish, and fish.  While these foods are often perfectly benign, ingesting just a small amount can be dangerous – even deadly – for some.  Providing your customers with thorough and accurate information helps them to make safe choices.

Food Preparation: Train staff about potential allergens.  Food for allergy sufferers should be prepared and served without any contact with allergens.  Never make casual product substitutions (i.e. peanut oil for canola oil).  Read labels carefully; don’t “guess” what ingredients are in a product.  Train chefs to prepare allergen-free versions of items upon request.

Serving Customers with Allergies:  Advise staff to pay close attention when a guest says he or she has a food allergy.  Most sufferers are very knowledgeable about the foods they cannot eat.  Servers should be able to describe a menu item and its ingredients upon request.  If a server does not know whether a menu item is free of a potential allergen, he should say so and refer the guest to a manager who has been designated to answer such questions.  If no one knows for certain whether an allergen is in an item, admit that and recommend ordering another item.  Complex foods such as sauces and dressings may also cause an allergic reaction.  Serve these items on the side to sufferers.  If special requests to accommodate food allergies are common in your restaurant, consider adding a block of menu items – an appetizer, entree and dessert – that are free from all major allergens.

Emergency Procedures:  Train your staff to call for emergency aid if they see a customer in distress.  Symptoms can include itching in and around the mouth, a tightening of the throat (airway blockage), wheezing and hoarseness, shortness of breath, appearance of hives, swelling of eyelids, lips, hands or feet, nausea, cramping or vomiting, a drop in blood pressure, and loss of consciousness.  Symptoms may appear as soon as 1 to 15 minutes after consuming food, but can also develop over a period of hours.  Have emergency numbers posted at all telephones.  Also post the name, street address, and telephone number of your restaurant beside each telephone to ensure rapid response by the emergency squad.

Your customers are your most precious assets.  Keep your customers safe by taking these extra precautions.  It may save your business…and someone’s life.

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