Category Archives: Food Allergies

National Food Safety Month: Central’s Food Safety Resource Guide

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) kicked off National Food Safety Month on September 1.  This annual NRA campaign raises awareness about food safety and stresses the importance of education.

The way food is handled, served and stored must be a top priority for all types of foodservices.

Failing to cook a product thoroughly could make a customer sick.  Using the wrong cutting board could cause a critical health situation for a person with a food allergy.  There are an endless amount of possible outcomes when there is a lack of safe food handling practices.

The last thing any foodservice establishment needs is to to be pinned as a place that causes an illness or lacks cleanliness.  First of all, it puts customers and/or your staff at risk.  Second, thanks to social media, it could give your business a bad reputation.  Customers turn to other customers for reviews.  Unfortunately, people are more likely to post about a negative experience over a positive.  So, if your foodservice creates an issue for a customer due to a failure on your part to handle food safely, word might spread.

For this year’s Food Safety Month, we compiled a food safety resource guide from our blogs, buying guides and products.  Be sure to check out a couple general tips at the end on cooking temperatures and handwashing techniques.

 Vollrath UniversityBlogs

10 Tips for Food Safety

Be Safe in 2012, Avoid These Common Foodservice Accidents

Food Allergies and Restaurants: It’s All About Communication

Food Safety: How to Stay E. Coli Free

Safe food temperatures

Expert Solutions in Food Safety

Living with Dietary Restrictions Series

Buying Guides

Cleaning Kitchen Counters

Cross-Contamination Prevention

Food Storage Containers

Glove Measurements

Keep Your Liquid Pourers Clean

All Central Buying Guides


General Tips

Vollrath UniversityCooking Temperatures

  • Seafood: 145°F for 15 seconds
  • Steak: 145°F for 15 seconds
  • Pork: 145°F for 15 seconds
  • Beef or Pork Roast: 145°F for 4 minutes
  • Ground Meat: 155°F for 15 seconds
  • Poultry: 165°F for 15 seconds

Proper Handwashing Techniques

1. Use soap and warm (+105°F) running water
2. Rub hands vigorously for 20 seconds
3. Be sure to wash all surfaces, including backs of hands, wrists, between fingers and under nails
4. Use nail brush around and under fingernails
5. Rinse well under running water
6. Dry hands with paper towel
7. Turn off the water and open door knobs using a paper towel rather than bare hands

Be sure to wash hands frequently, especially after coming in contact with bare body parts, leaving/returning to the work area, coughing, sneezing, using a handkerchief, using tobacco, eating or drinking, handling soiled equipment, after food preparation (to avoid cross-contamination), switching between raw food and ready-to-eat food and any other activity that may contaminate the hands.

5 Restaurant and Foodservice Industry Trends

The foodservice industry is constantly evolving.  One minute we’re focused on one thing, then six months down the road something new pops up.  In our 2011 “end of year” foodservice trends and predictions review, quite a few trends have really stuck such as mobile ordering devices, local food and double-sided menus (menus that separate healthy and unhealthy, such as McDonald’s recent “Favorites Under 400“).  Then there are other trends we haven’t heard much about such as plate shapes.

So as you can see, a lot can change in eight months.  Here are some of the latest trends, and we hope you will share what you are seeing in our comment section below.

Pop-Up Restaurants

Food trucks aren’t the only form of mobile food, pop-up restaurants are too.  A pop-up restaurant is a temporary dining experience that can be used for a chef to try out different menu items, a landlord wishing to rent out space during downtime or a dining experience for an event such as the pop-up Goodness, which lasted the duration of New York’s fashion week in February.

However Intuit doesn’t say pop-ups are anything new, because they have been around for quite a long time.  They are starting to show true staying power though.  Perhaps it’s because  it’s cheaper to start a pop-up than to open a restaurant, it’s a great way to test out an idea or maybe there is something to be said for the power of social media to draw customers.

Upscale Kids Menus

Quinoa, black bean and corn salad, stuffed zucchini boats, pesto pasta, apple oat balls and felafel wraps are just five of the 54 winning entries of the first Kids’ State Dinner hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama on August 20.  Just to reiterate, these ideas weren’t whipped up by professional chefs with years of experience, but just children.  With the new USDA guidelines for schools and an overall push for better eating habits, restaurants have started to pick up on revamping kids menus and provide out of the box menu ideas.  For instance Applebees offers a grilled chicken sandwich with a variety of sides (the side advertised being broccoli) and Ruby Tuesday offers kids chop steak with broccoli and white cheddar mashed potatoes.  These menus are much more advanced compared to the days of cheeseburgers, chicken nuggets, french fries and macaroni and cheese.

Gen Y Changing the Game

A recent Food Management article looked closely at Packaged Fact’s  “Collegiate Gen Y eating: Culinary Trend Mapping Report” and it appears that college-aged Gen Y’ers (18 to 22) are starting to define new trends in food.  According to Food Management, it’s because of the way they are exposed to new foods and they predict these trends will stay because the foodservice industry will have to adapt once all these students enter the workforce.

The report found students “are nutritionally minded, crave flavorful foods, look for comfort and indulgence and need speed and convenience.”  Some recent foods or trends that have been introduced in college foodservices have been going meatless, chickpeas, different fruits and vegetables, Asian cuisine, comfort foods (such as Italian or Mexican) and foods one can eat while on the go.

Awareness of Food Allergies and Diet Restrictions on Menus

This section isn’t necessarily a trend, but restaurants are starting to pay more attention to food allergies and dietary restrictions and take them more seriously.  Even as far back as a couple years ago, people weren’t thinking about gluten-free.  Today?  Several restaurants include gluten-free items on their menu.  But food allergy awareness extends further than the menu.  In the back of the house, restaurants have to ensure people with severe food allergies remain safe.  Many restaurants have put procedures in place while others are still learning and take food allergies on a case by case basis.  To help, manufacturers of foodservice products have begun to create products to help with food allergies, such as San Jamar’s Allergen Saf-T-Zone cutting boards.  Then when it comes to just health or dietary restrictions, restaurants are including nutritional information or helpful guides to help diners make informed choices on the food they eat.  For instance noting an entree is low calorie or low fat.  Others may let customers know an item has a low amount of sodium.

Local and Sustainability

Consumers are really starting to care more about where their food comes from, how it’s grown, what the animals they may consume are eating, etc.  Over the last couple years there has been a rise in locally sourced food.  This rise went as high as restaurants going “hyper-local,” where they grow their own food.  It provides customers with a fresh product while keeping it in a community.

Then there is the other side of the spectrum where people and/or restaurants care about where their meat comes from and what the animal is eating.  There are some individuals that can tell a difference in taste between a grass fed cow and corn fed cow.  In a Forbes article, they said people “can now buy specialized breeds, meats raised on different diets, and those without antibiotics or hormones in just about every major city.”

What changes are you seeing in the foodservice industry? Restaurants, schools, etc.?  Please share below!

Food Allergies and Restaurants: It’s All About Communication

Roughly 15 million Americans have food allergies, with the top eight being: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat.

Most all of these items are used in restaurants on a daily basis and food allergies have become more prevalent; many restaurants have adapted to ensure the safety of customers.  But there are still restaurants that have no experience with food allergies.  According to Sloane Miller, MSW, LMSW, author and advocate (, it’s all about communication.

All About Communication

Image from Sloane Miller, Copyright David Handshuh

When a person has a food allergy, it isn’t up to the individual to assume the kitchen staff knows how to handle it.  On the reverse, the kitchen staff must work together to ensure everyone understands what the customer’s needs are.  Miller makes a great yet obvious point:  A restaurant’s goal is never to hurt anyone; it just takes some negotiation and conversation to get on the same page.

“As a diner with food allergies, I want what every diner wants—to fall in love with a restaurant.  I want to taste a chef’s special dishes,” she said.

“My relationship with a chef or restaurant or chain can last for years.  I’ve created many relationships and have many restaurants I visit a few times a week.  I’m a regular with just a few special food allergy needs.”


Is Your Restaurant Capable?

Not every restaurant can accommodate a person with a food allergy—and that’s okay.  Miller mentioned there are some restaurants that put customers first, and then there are others where a chef and their creation is the focus.

Now, for those restaurants with little to no experience with food allergies but who want to become an accommodating establishment, there are ways to become educated and set procedures.  Many resources are available, such as “Welcoming Guests with Food Allergies” by the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network.

To Dos for Those with Allergies

While dining at a restaurant requires work from both the diner and the restaurant, the diner has to be prepared beforehand.

“It starts with the patient understanding their food allergy, what they can and can’t have, carrying their emergency medications and having their own emergency plan of action,” Miller said. “Then they can engage a restaurant, group or chain in the process of dialogue. ‘These are my needs; does the chef feel comfortable with my needs?’ Ask via phone or email before stepping into a restaurant. It gives everyone, the diner and the restaurant, the chance to make an informed decision.”

Miller added that upon dining out, she makes the dining experience pleasant for the restaurant, smiles a lot and develops many new relationships.

“I love dining out, I love chefs, I love food and I love tipping well.  These are things I recommend to my clients. If a restaurant is able to meet your needs, please tip well (like 20 percent on the bill) and return so staff get to know you, your needs.”

To Dos for Restaurants

“Accommodating. Communication.”

These are words Miller used frequently when she described her relationships with restaurants.  After all, despite having special food needs, she brings in money—whether it’s bringing in a group for a business meeting or a birthday party.  Developing a relationship with a diner can really become profitable, whether they have a food allergy or not.

“We are their best undiscovered asset,” she described about being a diner.

However, if a person with food allergies comes to your restaurant and you don’t feel your kitchen can fully meet their needs—it’s okay to say no.  It’s important for the person’s well-being.

Working with the customer is important and must be taken seriously.  If they ask for a manager or have their order sent back, it’s not because they don’t like it and is nothing to be offended by.  A tiny part of a peanut or something that has been cross-contaminated can be a life or death situation.

Common Misconceptions and Breakdown of Communication

Miller finds the most common misconception about food allergies is “a little bit won’t hurt.”  With a food allergy, “a little bit” can be fatal.  (Read about symptoms and reactions in our blog: The New Bully in our Schools—Food Allergies).

As a person with food allergies, Miller said if there has ever been an issue dining out, it’s when there has been a breakdown of communication.  This breakdown happens between the back of the house and the front of the house, back to the table.

“About every tenth time I dine out, someone in the back of the house doesn’t get the message and misses,” she explained.  “Even when I triple check, communication can still break down and end up in a food allergy error, which is why I advocate that everyone always have their emergency mediation on them at all times and have an emergency action plan as well.”

Restaurant In Action

One of Indiana’s most beloved restaurants is Scotty’s Brewhouse, with five (soon to be six) locations around the state.  They are a prime example of an establishment well-educated in handling food for those with food allergies.

“First off, we start with training employees how to handle allergies when an order comes back,” said Luke Duncan, director of kitchen operations for Scotty’s Brewhouse Inc.  “The cooks related to the items take off their gloves and wash their hands.  We have separate utensils, cooking pans and cutting boards we use for all allergy items.  Also, especially for gluten-free items, we take ingredients out of the back from fresh batches and not what we have on our cook line to avoid cross-contamination.”

Also, each location has a guide of products readily available for managers to reference to if they are uncertain about hidden allergies, such as an item that doesn’t include peanuts, but was processed at a plant that processes nuts.

“We make every effort for an allergen plate to be handled by the cook (who cooked it from beginning to end without interruption whenever possible) and the manager on duty only, this way we do not introduce contamination from a third party not thinking about what they’re doing,” Duncan added.  “The manager finishes the plate with two American flag toothpicks (one on each end of the plate) to ensure any food runners to not grab the plate by mistake.  We have managers run the food whenever possible or a specific delegate if they are tied up elsewhere.”

Duncan said a diner who comes in with a food allergy is a challenging scenario when they are busy.  However, Scotty’s instructs servers to inform guests it may take a few extra minutes to ensure their order is properly handled.  And for a safe and enjoyable meal, that customer sure won’t mind.

Recap for Diners

  • Fully understand your allergy/allergies
  • Carry emergency medications
  • Have a personal emergency plan of action
  • Engage with a restaurant by calling or emailing ahead of time and discussing needs
  • Be pleasant, tip well and return upon having a good experience so the staff get to know you

Recap for Restaurants

  • Set procedures in place for food allergies and train all employees
  • Talk with the customer to ensure your kitchen can meet their needs
  • Don’t be afraid to say no if you don’t think your restaurant is capable
  • Ensure full communication with all staff members, both front and back of the house
  • Don’t be offended when asked to speak to a manager or have a dish sent back

The New Bully in our Schools — Food Allergies

Looking back 20-30 years ago, food allergies in schools were practically unheard of.  Sure, each class may have had one or two asthmatic students, but for the most part, kids were kids.  There was no “peanut-free” classroom or cafeteria assigned seating, nor were any of us afraid that our child might become so allergic to something that he/she would begin carrying around an EpiPen®, an auto-injector filled with epinephrine that treats signs and symptoms of a life-threatening allergic reaction, also known as anaphylaxis.

Unfortunately, things have changed in the past 10 years; studies have shown that food allergies have increased by almost 20% in the last decade, with the biggest increase among Hispanics.

“Reported food allergy is increasing among children of all ages, among boys and girls, and among children of different races/ethnicities,” says Amy M. Branum, MSPH, of the National Center for Health Statistics at the CDC.  “However, it cannot be determined how much of the increases in estimates are truly attributable to increases in clinical disease and how much are attributable to increased awareness by physicians, other health care providers, and parents.”

Types of Food Allergies

There are a multitude of food allergies one can acquire; the most common allergies include:  milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, seafood, shellfish, soy and wheat (these are often referred to as “the big eight.” ) Cooked LobsterAllergies to seeds, especially sesame, seem to be increasing as well.

Food allergies can start at any age, but usually cow’s milk, egg and soy allergies begin in childhood and are outgrown by the age 16.  Unfortunately, for those who have acquired peanut and tree nut allergies, the allergy stays with them throughout adulthood.  In the U.S. alone, approximately three million people have peanut or tree nut allergies; the number of children with peanut allergies went from one in 250 to one in 125 between the years of 1997 and 2002.  Fish and shellfish allergies tend to be life-long; 6.5 million adults are reported to have an allergy to the animals.

Along with plant and animal allergies, environmental allergies, such as asthma and hay fever seem to be increasing over the years as well.  Celiac disease, caused by an immune system defect, has also increased.  Scientists are stumped as to why allergies to both the food we eat and the air we breathe is making us much, much sicker.

Food Allergy Symptoms

So, as a teacher or parent that has a child that may have never experience an allergic reaction before, how do you recognize the symptoms?  An allergic reaction can actually affect various parts of the body, including the skin (in the form of hives), the gastrointestinal tract, the respiratory tract, and, if the allergic reaction is severe enough, the cardiovascular system.

While one child may react mildly to his/her soy allergy another child may have a peanut allergy that causes a life-threatening reaction, called anaphylaxis.  Here’s a list of just some of the symptoms one would get when experiencing an allergic reaction:

  • Stomach pain or cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing and swallowing
  • Fainting, light-headedness, and/or dizziness
  • Slurred SpeechAmbulance at Emergency Entrance

When someone has this type of reaction, it requires urgent medical care and must be treated as a medical emergency.  Hopefully, the child’s parent and school have discussed this issue and have in place an allergy plan.  Unfortunately, that was not the case for seven-year-old Virginia student, Ammaria Johnson, who died January 2 of cardiac arrest and anaphylaxis, according to a statement from Chesterfield County police.  Another child, unaware that Ammaria had a deadly peanut allergy, gave one to her on the playground.  Ammaria ate it, began breaking into hives and had shortness of breath and then went to her teacher, who took her to the nurse.  While the school did call 911, responding firefighters and police were unable to save her life.

A spokesman for the school district said that parents have to provide any prescribe medications to the schools, and sign a form allowing the school to give it to the child in case of an emergency.  But in Ammaria’s case, no EpiPen® or other medication was given by her family to the nurse.

Universal School Allergy Policies

Due to the increase of food allergies and students visiting hospitals due to allergic shock, the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Management Act (FAAMA) was signed into law by President Obama on Jan. 4, 2011.  This bill calls for national assistance to schools to manage students that have to deal with allergies on a daily basis.  While this bill is on a voluntary basis, the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, or FAAN™, is working on a bill called the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, that would encourage states to create laws that would allow school to stockpile EpiPens ® for those who don’t have prescribed pens.   This law would be similar to those passed in Illinois and Georgia in 2011.

While some people are encouraged by these laws coming into the schools, other parents and teachers weren’t as excited.  For example, an elementary school in Edgewater, Fla. had to rinse out their mouths twice daily to avoid spreading peanut residue to another student with a severe peanut allergy.  The teachers had to monitor the mouth washing as well as hand washing, and clean surfaces continually with Clorox.  All peanut products were banned, as were snacks in the classrooms and outside food for holiday parties.  There was even a peanut-patrolling dog in the halls, making sure no peanuts got through the door!  It all came to a head, when other parents began to complain, saying that the allergy-aware policies forced them to buy more expensive foods, such as soy or sunflower butter instead of the normal peanut butter.  The food-allergy rules have become too costly—is it really worth it?

“You don’t want to be careless and make another child sick, but you really had to stop and think every day what was okay and where it was okay,” said Anita Lavine, a mother of two in Seattle, whose children’s schools also enforced extreme food allergy plans.

Although it may be hard for allergy-free families to get used to, these children are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act.  Dr. Stanley Fineman, a board certified allergist, emphasized that although the schools are legally obligated to protect children with allergies against discrimination, the policies they enforce must also be reasonable and practical, as well as have scientific validity.

We Need a Plan Put In Place, But How Do We Do It?

If you’re an administrator, nurse or teacher and your school has no allergy guidelines put into place, there are some great links and tools on the web that can educate you on how to begin an allergy plan.

FAAN also has a great tool that has a list of some states’ food allergy guidelines for schools.  It’s a great resource if your child has recently acquired an allergy and you need to know how your schools deal with them.  The Statewide Guidelines for Schools is a great help for both parents and teachers, as it’s written down plainly, instead of any legalese.  The only unfortunate thing is that it doesn’t include all 50!

If you are a parent, you might also notice a one-page form that will ask you a few questions about the allergies; this is to determine if an EpiPen® will be needed on site.  You can find the Food Allergy Action Plan form here.

Tips For Managing Food Allergies

Hopefully, your child is lucky enough to attend a school that has an allergy plan in place, but let’s not forget that you, the parent, and your child need to know as well how to manage your allergies so you can avoid any allergic reactions.  Although those reactions are obviously never planned, there are some tips you can use to help keep your allergies under control.

  1.  Your diet and lifestyle must change in order for your allergy to be successfully managed.  It’ll be hard, especially for the child, but as time goes by, you’ll both get used to it!
  2. Avoidance of the food is the only way to prevent a reaction, because, unfortunately, there have been no prescriptions created to combat food allergies.
  3. If your doctor prescribed you or your child any medication, have he/she carry it with him/her at all times.
  4. If your child has been prescribed an EpiPen® but feels uncomfortable with it, your doctor could give him an auto-injector “trainer.”  These devices look almost identical to an EpiPen®, but do not contain a needle or medication.  It’s a great way to get students, parents and teachers to practice with the tool and learn how to use the real thing.

Learn all you can about your child’s allergy, and be sure to teach him/her the basics of what to do in case of an emergency.  Because if you choose not to educate yourself or others, it’s like playing Russian Roulette with your child’s life.