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Food Allergy for Restaurants

Food Allergy for Restaurants

Last updated on 9/21/2017

With a reported 50% of fatal food allergen episodes occurring outside the home, it's no wonder that customers with severe food allergies are cautious of dining out. Currently, there is no legislation stating that your restaurant has to accommodate customers with food allergies. However, some states (Rhode Island and Massachusetts) have passed legislation requiring food allergy training for staff and menus containing allergy disclaimers.

Accommodating patrons with food allergies is a matter of both safety and increased revenue opportunity. By implementing food allergy-friendly solutions at your restaurant (such as ingredient substitutions, cross-contact management, and accurate menu disclaimers), you can earn the trust of a dining demographic that has increased notably in the last decade.

Prevent Cross-Contact

Accidental cross-contact is a main culprit of food allergy episodes. Cross-contact is defined as the transfer of an allergen from a food containing the allergen to a food that does not contain the allergen. Keep in mind that this differs from cross-contamination, which is attributed to foodborne illness. Sometimes, even a trace amount of food is enough to trigger an allergic reaction. Check out these methods to avoid common cross-contact incidents:

When Prepping, Cooking, Plating and Serving

Practice proper sanitization! Wash, rinse, and sanitize cookware, utensils and equipment after handling a food allergen.

Sometimes, it's just not possible to fully sanitize every piece of cookline equipment. Use a separate fryer and cooking oils when frying food for customers with food allergies. The same applies to items like flattop grills, blenders, and other machines.

Wash hands and change gloves before prepping food.

Beware of garnishes! Many times, a final garnish can create the allergy. Examples: Sprinkling cheese on dairy-free chili, topping a nut-free cheesecake with walnuts, or adding croutons to a gluten-free salad.

Create a specific serving plan for food allergy orders. Delivery options include bringing a meal separately to the table, using a different colored bowl or plate, or using a colored ticket to indicate special handling.

Don't forget to properly sanitize tabletops, countertops, and other dining surfaces. Use hot water, commercial cleaning solution, and a fresh cleaning cloth to ensure that food allergens don't linger on surfaces or transfer through the cloth you use.

Implement a no-substitution policy from your food supplier. If you must allow substitutions, they should receive manager approval. Introducing a replacement product to your ingredients list could potentially add a new allergen to your menu (for example, a soup broth with soy). If customers have previously ordered a dish, they may be under the assumption that it is safe to eat.

At Your Serving Line and Cafeteria

Place nutrition and allergen cards on food shields and sneeze guards.

Don't use the same ladle, pair of tongs, scoop, and other utensils to serve more than one specific dish. Consider using color coded serving utensils to designate dishes free of - or containing - the “Big Eight”

Avoid Emergencies with Your Menu

A concise menu is your first line of defense in protecting diners from known food allergens. Decide how you will denote potential allergens on your menu. It's important to evaluate what you can actually accommodate. For example, if you have just one fryer for multiple dishes like fish, shellfish, and breaded meat, you cannot provide fried foods that are free of the “Big Eight” without changing out your fry oil and cleaning the equipment. However, some food allergy issues are much more easily solved. If you're looking to become more food-allergy friendly, consider supplying alternative food items (for example, gluten-free rolls) for a simple solution.

Menu Suggestions

  • Identify known “Big Eight” allergens for each dish. These can be depicted using text, icons, or other abbreviations on your menu.
  • Provide a general statement for food items that cannot be altered to accommodate food allergies. For example, “All fried items are prepared in oil that is also used to cook shellfish, fish, and breaded items” or “All soup broth may contain traces of soy.”
  • Market your allergy-friendly products by specifically denoting them on the menu. For instance, the labels “Gluten-free” and “Dairy-free” immediately catch the attention of guests with allergies.
  • Offer substitutions, such as gluten-free rolls, dairy-free creamer, and dishes prepared with vegetable oil in place of peanut oil.
  • Include a notice on your menu and menu boards that reads “Before placing your order, please inform your server if a person in your party has a food allergy” (this notice is currently required by law in Massachusetts).

If you do not have the resources, staff training, or ingredients to accommodate a customer with a food allergy, be honest with them. This can be noted in a menu with a simple disclaimer, such as “We cannot guarantee that food allergens will not be transferred through accidental cross-contact.”

Top Three Approaches to Allergen Management

While choosing an approach to food allergy management can seem daunting, remember that it all begins with effective communication between customers, restaurant staff, and food suppliers. FESmag.com offers these top three approaches to allergen management: 

1.  Understand what the customer's allergen is and whether the restaurant can accommodate that person 

2.  Understand your ingredients and read their labels

3. Communication between front of the house and back of the house staff regarding a customer's particular allergy is critical

Related Resources

Food Allergy Overview

Introduction: Recently, the National Restaurant Association shifted their focus to a growing area of food safety concern: Food Allergies. The CDC reports that the number of people with food allergies increased 18% between 2000 and 2010. It's especially pertinent to address this issue at your foodservice business so diners can feel comfortable eating food outside of their own kitchens. In fact, ServSafe reports that half the fatal episodes from food allergens occur outside the home. You might wonder: Is my restaurant legally obligated to accommodate customers with food allergies? How do I ensure the safety of diners with life threatening allergies? What are the most common food allergens? We cover all of that - and more - in this comprehensi

Food Allergy Safety Products

In an ideal world, you'd wash, rinse, and sanitize every utensil prior to preparing a meal for a customer with an allergy. But even trace amounts of food can cause cross-contact. To eliminate the risk completely, designate equipment for known allergy-only meals. This equipment should be stored separately and labeled in some way to note it is only to be used on food allergen dishes. Purple-colored kitchen supplies are commonly used to prepare food allergy dishes. In this article, we highlight some allergen safe kitchen tools that can be found right here at WebstaurantStore! And don't forget that many of our knives , spatulas , gloves , towels and other products come in various colors to help you create your own color coded system to avoid cr

Food Allergy For Suppliers

If the food product you produce is regulated by the FDA, your business falls under the requirements outlined under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA). This labeling applies to all retail and foodservice establishments that package, label, and offer products for human consumption. This applies to food products that are labeled on or after January 1, 2006. Unsure of how FALCPA affects your food service business? This Question-and-Answer section covers the essentials of food allergen labeling laws. For the complete law and a more extensive Q&A , visit FDA.gov . Food Allergen Q&A Does FALCPA apply to my foodservice business? If you are a retail and foodservice establishment that packages, labels, and

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