Best Practices for Restaurant Food Allergy Training
In the past decade restaurants have seen a significant increase in the number of guests who have special requirements due to a food allergy. It is estimated that about 15 million Americans have food allergies, and research shows that the level is increasing. Because of this it is essential that every restaurant have a well-planned allergen policy coupled with effective food allergy training for the staff.
What is a Food Allergy?
Essentially a food allergy is a medical condition in which the body wrongly identifies a specific protein from a food as a threat and their immune system attacks the protein which triggers a harmful immune response which the person experiences as an allergic reaction.
An allergic reaction can range from a mildly irritating itch to sever swelling of the throat or even death.
Top 8 Food Allergies
Although there are over 160 identified food allergies, these 8 allergens account for 90% of allergic reactions among people:
- Tree Nuts
Cross Contamination -vs- Cross Contact
Chefs and kitchen staff are generally well acquainted with the term “cross contamination” and how it relates to controlling food borne illness. But the phrase “cross contact” is a relatively new phrase in the restaurant world and many chefs and cooks mistakenly assume that it is the same thing as cross contamination.
Cross contamination procedures refer to the control methods used to protect the public from pathogens and food borne illness. Cross contact procedures refer to the control methods used to protect the public from allergens when accommodating a guest with a food allergy. A common misconception is that high heat will destroy the allergens which can cause an allergic reaction. While high heat does help manage cross contamination issues (food borne illness issues), it has no effect when dealing with cross contact issues (allergy issues).
An example of cross contact is when a deep fryer is used to cook shrimp. The oil now contains the proteins which will affect a person with a shellfish allergy…the high temperature of the oil will not destroy those proteins.
Another example is a griddle which is used to cook scrambled eggs on. If the griddle is not properly cleaned (i.e. just scrapped “clean” with a grill scrapper) then those proteins are still present and if you cook sliced turkey for a sandwich and serve it to a person with an egg allergy then that person is at risk of experiencing an allergic reaction due to cross contact.
FoodAllergy.org has a free download to help remind and instruct your staff about properly managing cross contact.
Restaurant Food Allergy Best Practices for Protecting Guests
When a customer indicates that they have an allergy to a certain food the following food allergy training procedures can help minimize the allergen risk to restaurant guests:
- Server communicates allergy to manager or FOH supervisor
- Server communicates allergy to chef or BOH supervisor
- Chef communicates allergy to all kitchen staff
- Chef verifies that the allergen is not in the recipe
- especially verify 3rd party ingredients such as chicken base & purchased dressings
- Station cooks clean & sanitize their area before all contact with product
- Station cooks wash hands and change food service gloves before all contact with product
- Station cooks use clean, unused utensils
- Item is cooked on a clean surface which has no cross contact with allergens
- Item is specially marked through all kitchen processes to identify as allergen free
- Item is verbally identified to wheelman & Chef when complete
- Wheelman or plater washes hands and changes gloves before plating
- Clean unused utensils are used to plate the product
- Item is marked in the window and verbally communicated to the server
- Server washes hands and delivers the menu item by itself (to avoid cross contact by stacking several items on their arm or tray as is common)
Although these procedures will not eliminate allergen risks they can greatly reduce the risks.
One recommended practice for food allergy training to help train the crew and remind them of the importance of allergen management is to designate specific colored cutting boards and utensils to be used with allergen sensitive guests, and to wash them after every use. Purple is a common color being used for this purpose and the best practice is to NEVER use the purple equipment when handling any of the top 8 most common allergens – peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, or fish.
By teaching the crew to never use these utensils with those allergens you help educate them about the importance of allergen control. Although these tools cannot eliminate cross contact of allergens if the crew doesn’t follow proper procedures, but it can certainly help minimize the risk to allergen sensitive guests.
What is the proper way to clean a surface to avoid an allergic reaction?
Studies show that standard cleaning procedures using soap & water followed by proper sanitization are sufficient to prepare a surface for safe preparation of an allergen afflicted guest. But simply using a sanitizer solution is insufficient both for cross contact procedures and for cross contamination procedures.
Food Allergy Training Questions (true/false)
- Individuals with a food allergy can safely consume small amounts of that food (false)
- Food allergy and food intolerance means the same thing (false)
- High heat cooking (i.e. oil deep frying, griddle) destroys most food allergens (false)
- Removing an allergen from a finished dish (i.e. removing the nuts) provides a safe meal for a food allergic guest (false)