Food Allergy Awareness
Each September is the National Restaurant Association’s “Food Safety Month.” This year they are putting an emphasis on food safety awareness in terms of food allergies. Over 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies, many of which are very serious and can be life threatening. It’s important that members of the restaurant and foodservice industry understand how serious these allergies are and what measures can be taken to ensure a safe meal for customers.
Of the millions of American who suffer from food allergies, Food Allergy Research and Education said 90 percent of food allergies come from peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish. Those who have one of these, or any of the other allergies, can see symptoms anywhere from a few minutes after contact to even several hours after. In some extreme situations, action must be taken quickly.
Impact on Restaurants and Color Coding for Prevention
With food allergies becoming more prevalent, the foodservice industry is having to adapt to ensure the safety for their guests. Now more than ever menus are becoming more detailed to help customers with food allergies avoid certain dishes. However, it goes beyond informing a guest of an ingredient to protect them from a serious reaction.
Avoiding cross-contamination is crucial. Even a trace of an item in a dish can pose serious risks to someone. One of the best ways to avoid cross-contamination is to have a color system set up in the back of the house. Many suppliers have created color coded products such as cutting boards, knives and gloves, to ensure specific items are only used with the correlating food. These colors are only placed in certain areas of the kitchen and never moved. For instance anything red would be used in the butcher’s area and anything white would stay in the bakery.
Colors for the cross-contamination color system include:
- Red: Meat
- Yellow: Poultry
- Green: Fruits and Vegetables
- Tan/Brown: Fish and Seafood
- Blue: Cooked Foods
- White: General Use
- Purple: Allergy
Another important thing for restaurants to remember is to communicate properly. In a June 2012 blog, Sloane Miller, MSW, LMSW, author and advocate (AllergicGirl.com), told us it’s all about communication on both ends–from the person with the allergy and the staff.
Miller explained if a customer comes to a restaurant, and that restaurant doesn’t feel they can 100 percent accommodate their needs, it’s okay to tell them that. If a restaurant has knowledge about food allergies, they need to know they are important and must be taken seriously. One of the biggest misconceptions Miller explained was that “a little bit won’t hurt.”
A breakdown of communication is another way mistakes happen. For instance a waiter may relay the message a customer has a shellfish allergy that doesn’t get passed down the line. Someone could have just prepared a dish and sent it off, and another person may prepare the customer with a food allergy’s dish in the same area. Small traces of shellfish could accidentally be included in the entree causing an immediate reaction. This is why the color system is important for kitchens.
The best way to handle any situation is to become informed. The National Restaurant Association recommends the ServSafe® Allergens Online course and assessment. It covers many areas including identifying allergens, communication, cross-contamination prevention, food labels and more.
Central has several products to help restaurants and foodservices stay organized and prepared for guests with food allergies.
One of the most recent items we’ve added is San Jamar’s Allergen-Saf-T-Zone™ System. This system is a kit that includes a cutting board, tongs, turner and chef’s knife which allows restaurants to only use this kit for customers with food allergies.
Central also offers San Jamar’s Allergen Saf-T-Zone™ cutting boards in a variety of widths and depths. These boards have rulers to make portioning easy and list out the eight different foods that should not be used for quick reference. This is the same board included in the Allergen-Saf-T-Zone™ System.
Our Value Series line of products includes an allergen thermometer. It’s purple color alerts kitchen staff to only use it for special food allergen preparation. There is an empty space in the Allergen-Saf-T-Zone™ System for a thermometer making this one a great buy to fit in with the purple scheme.
Learn about other ways to avoid cross-contamination on our Cross-Contamination Prevention Guide. You can also contact a product consultant at 800-215-9293 for help finding food allergy solutions for your restaurant.