Focus on ALLERGEns
Training Is a Key component
in serving Patrons with Food
Allergen control in foodservice
When most people think of food safety, they think of keeping the mayonnaise cool or using proper handwashing tech- niques. While these practices protect against foodborne pathogens, there’sanother dimension to serving customers meals that won’tsend them to the emergency room (ER) for dessert. Commercial foodservice operations increasingly need to beaware of patrons with food allergies and intolerances.
Approximately 9 million American adults (4% of thepopulation over 18) and 6 million children (8% of thoseunder 18) are allergic to one or more foods. The numbersrose about 18% between 1997 and 2007, the most recentyear for which figures are available from the U.S. Centersfor Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Reactions to triggering foods can be severe—the CDCreported that food allergies account for nearly a quarter-million ER visits every year and are the most commoncauses of anaphylaxis outside the hospital setting. Themost common food allergens are milk, wheat, soy, fish,shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts and eggs.
Think about all the places on any menu these itemscould lurk, not just as featured items but also in condiments or the like. Was that salad dressing finished witheggs for a better consistency? Or maybe a dash of soysauce makes the beef gravy more flavorful? It takes acomplete breakdown of every ingredient in every dish toknow exactly what a kitchen is serving its customers.
Armed with that knowledge, serversor managers can confidently respondwhen diners ask if a dish contains a specific ingredient.
“We are definitely getting more questions than we did 5 or 6 years ago,” saysMark Herman, CEO of Dion’s, whichserves pizzas, salads and sandwiches in17 quick-serve locations in New Mexicoand Texas. “People are more aware, andthey have more access to information.They want to know more.”
From Knowledge to Action
Knowledge may be power, but
there are two more steps beyond menu
analysis an operator must take to safely
accommodate diners with food sensi-
tivities. The first affects the back of the
house; the second involves the entire
operation, from owner to bussers.
Cross-contamination of dishes prepared without offending ingredientscan occur anywhere in the productionprocess, through shared cutting boardsor utensils or grease particles flying fromgrills. That’s why any kitchen that offersspecial dishes to sensitive diners mustdevelop specific protocols to keep themeal away from triggering ingredients allthe way from cooler to table (see “Tipsfor Foodservice: Setting Up a Gluten-Free Kitchen,” p. 14).
The recent dust-up over Domino’spizza it calls gluten-free illustrates theproblem. While the chain spent lots ofmoney developing—and marketing—acrust made without wheat flour, it didnothing to ensure the non-wheat crustwould not pick up gluten from the otherpies in the kitchen. In fact, by sharingbaking benches and ovens with wheatcrusts and not following proper foodallergen protocols, Domino’s more orless guaranteed that what started out asgluten-free would reach the carryout boxas only gluten-not-so-much. At least thestores now post a disclaimer to the effectthat its “gluten-free” pizza is not suitable
By Betsy Craig