In a 2015 study conducted by the not-for-profit organisation, Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia, a total of 1-2% of adults and 4-8% of children were reported to have food allergies. While some might think that these are just small estimates, as a responsible restaurateur, allergens that might cause an allergy attack for your customers should be one of your main considerations when planning your menu and when preparing your customers’ orders.
What is food allergy and how is it related to running a restaurant business? As your partner in building a successful food business, we hope that through this blog, we will be able to raise awareness as well as help you build and manage a safe, hygienic, and friendly restaurant or café. Read on and find out just how important this topic is for you as a restaurateur.
“My restaurant is squeaky clean! Why do I have to consider this?”
You might have that question in mind. It is already given that you have a clean workplace but know that food allergy is a different issue compared to food contamination. While there should be rules in place in your restaurant (most especially in the kitchen) on how to keep everything clean and sanitised, there should also be a specific standard procedure in serving customers with food allergies. Why should you have this? The safety of your customers should always be your top priority. Anticipate that people who will be coming into your restaurant door will have different conditions and so to avoid causing harm to them and to your restaurant’s reputation, prepare yourself ahead.
Let’s start with the ‘WHAT’ in food allergy.
Your customers are all unique and different from each other. Not just by their preferences but also by how their bodies react to the food that they eat. Food Allergy is defined as a situation wherein the body’s immune system assumes that a certain type of food is harmful and reacts negatively to it thus, releasing body chemicals to alter the food’s effect to the body. A person with food allergies usually have symptoms that include but are not limited to the following:
- swelling of eyes, lips, tongue, and other parts of the face and body,
- having trouble breathing,
- stomach ache,
- and sudden occurrence of hives.
The symptom can be light to intense. On some rare extreme cases, a person with food allergy dies.
What are the foods that commonly cause food allergy?
You might have some of these ingredients as part of the dishes that you regularly serve in your restaurant:
- Peanuts and other nut products such as peanut butter, cooking oil, and peanut paste;
- Shellfish and other kinds of seafood such as shrimp, crayfish, lobster, mussels, scallops, squid, salmon, tuna, shrimp paste, and fish sauce;
- Milk and dairy products such as butter, cheese, curds, yogurt, cream, margarine;
- Eggs and egg-based products such as mayonnaise, egg noodles, batter, and icings;
- Soy and soy-containing products such as soy sauce, miso, and tofu;
- Wheat and wheat-containing products such as bread crumbs, baking powder, cereals.
These are common ingredients used to cook different kinds of pasta, foreign dishes, desserts, salads, baked goods, and soups. Some are used as sauces, stuffing, garnishes, flavourings and extenders.
We need to understand and be patient with customers who order with specific instructions on how their food should be cooked and prepared. They are not being hard on you but just simply avoiding food or ingredients that they are allergic to so as to avoid the health risks mentioned above.
How to prepare. Again, it is your duty to establish an internal process that sets rules on how to handle orders from people who are allergic from certain food and ingredients, how to handle customers who are suffering from a food allergy attack inside your restaurant, and how you can prevent it from happening again. You and your staff need to be prepared as not knowing what to do can lead to a disaster. Know that any mishap could cost you a customer who could tell other customers via word-of-mouth, reviews, or social media. This then is called bad press. Here are ways on how to prepare yourself for these scenarios:
Create a strategy. Prepare a written plan or process flow on how to handle customers with food allergy. There should be a designated point person that is trained to handle these types of customers. A training or drill for a food allergy scenario is beneficial to your food handlers, chef, and servers so that they will know what to do. Local emergency contact information should also be well visible in your restaurant kitchen as well.
Clear communication. Help your customers inform you of their condition by communicating properly with them. Your menu should have a clear reminder when a possible food allergen is present in a dish. Avoid having dish names that can mislead the customer. Or better yet, a line in your menu should say “Please request for the restaurant manager if you are allergic or suspect that you might be allergic to any of the dishes listed below.”.
Cooking and preparing the food properly. Food handlers and chefs should be able to identify the top food allergens on the menu and should be able to provide the customer the same dish but without the food allergen or at least be able to offer an alternative.
Also in preparing the dish, it is of great importance that cross contact must be avoided. This means that the ingredient for the special order should not come into contact with other food ingredients that the customer is allergic to because even a small trace of food allergen on the dish can cause allergic reaction. To avoid cross contact, wash hands thoroughly and use different sets of clean utensils and cookware. Do not reuse cooking oil or another ingredient that had come into contact with a food allergen. Make sure that the kitchen or food preparing area is sanitised before food preparations begin.
It should also be practiced that special orders should be placed on a different plate, bowl, or container so food servers can easily identify that it is a specially prepared food.
In case of an occurrence of allergic reaction. Do not argue with the customer or even blame them. Immediately help the customer and provide first aid.
Food safety is a crucial key to having a successful food business so be sure to keep these tips in mind. You can also download our Food Safety Manual Sampler or purchase the full version here. For any other questions regarding managing restaurants, email us at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.