Having a restaurant or becoming a chef in one is a very fun and profitable experience. Food is a necessity — it’s not seasonal, making the food & beverage industry a stable business for everyone. However, just like any other type of business, the food & beverage industry can also face many challenges. One of these roadblocks is how to deal with restaurant customers who have food allergies.
According to experts, food allergy is a common, often serious, and sometimes a fatal problem. Statistics show that the number of Americans who have this condition is almost eleven million people— and most of these are children.
Any food can trigger allergies and that will vary from one person to another. Even so, there are eight foods that cause 90% of all food-related allergic reactions. These are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat.
There is also a list of fourteen ingredients that contain allergens as issued by the law. These fourteen ingredients include celery, cereals that contain gluten (such as barley and oats), crustaceans (like prawns, crabs, and lobsters), eggs, fish, lupin, milk, mollusks (such as muscles and oysters), soybeans, sulfur dioxide and sulfites, and tree nuts, including almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, cashew, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios and many more.
A person can experience an allergic reaction if their immune system incorrectly overreacts to a food that it considers a harmful foreign invader. As a result of this overreaction, allergic reaction symptoms can show within seconds to hours after eating the specific food that caused it.
Read further to learn more about the common allergens, their signs and symptoms and some tips on how to prepare for them with your food.
As a restaurant owner or a chef, you must know the symptoms of an allergic reaction. It is important that you are well-aware of these things in order for you to determine when to help someone in case they experience an allergic reaction from eating the food that you serve.
Here is the list of the symptoms that a person may experience when his or her allergy is triggered. But, keep in mind that not all symptoms may show simultaneously, and the signs of allergic reaction that a person might experience also vary.
If a person has both asthma and food allergy, then the moment they eat food that can trigger their allergies, they are likely to experience anaphylaxis. This is a condition wherein their body goes into a shock.
Anaphylaxis can also be triggered when allergens are introduced to the body. Allergic reactions might result from ingesting certain food, medicine, or even from inhaling certain smells. In case of life-threatening symptoms such as this, it is advised that an epinephrine or an adrenaline shot be injected immediately after the reaction has been triggered. After getting the shot, medical help should be urgently sought as well.
Suppose you served food that triggered someone’s allergic reaction. If that is the case, that isn’t good for your business or reputation as a chef. People will bash you for not prioritizing your customers’ safety, and they will surely write bad reviews of you and the restaurant. You don’t want that to happen, do you? Here are the best practices to avoid triggering your customers’ allergic reactions in your restaurant:
Regular milk and soy milk look the same. If you are having quite a busy day in your pantry, and loads of orders are coming up, then there is a huge probability that you mistake one for the other. If you want to avoid that, you must have a specific shelf for “safe” ingredients or ingredients that don’t cause allergic reactions. Aside from that, you should also avoid putting ingredients that look the same together.
You should always keep the freshness of your ingredients at all times. Applying correct storage protocols would keep your food supply from being contaminated with lots of allergens, which could be a danger when you prepare ingredients and serve the food to your customers.
It is also important to avoid storing incompatible food or ingredients altogether. For example, you should not be refrigerating cheese with your pineapples. Not only will this affect the state of the pineapples, but it can also absorb some of the allergens present in cheese.
Another way to avoid contaminating your food supply is by observing proper hygiene and cleanliness when handling ingredients, preparing tables, and using the kitchen. Employees who manage the ingredients and food products should also wash their hands regularly. If possible, they should wear gloves to avoid contaminating the food they are touching. Utensils should be squeaky clean to make sure that no allergens are transferred from one meal to the next.
Lastly, the kitchen must always be the place of utmost cleanliness because this is where most meals are prepared before being served. Allergens can clump up easily and blend on different types of dirt that can be found in a kitchen if left unnoticed. You do not want to serve food that has been prepared in an environment like this.
You should always be sharp about the orders. Learn to distinguish if there are special requests from the customers about specific ingredients that they don’t want to be included in the dish they ordered.
Next, if you are preparing both allergenic and non-allergenic dishes, make sure that you use separate utensils to avoid cross-contamination. Always keep in mind that even the smallest residues can trigger a life-threatening food-related allergic reaction.
Aside from that, you should also place the utensils and any cookware that you used for cooking an allergenic dish directly to the sink.
It is essential to know where your ingredients come from. This would help you inform your customers about the contents of their meals, and you could also give them a warning about the potential allergens that may be found in their food.
In fact, in some countries, restaurants are required to inform their customers regarding the contents of their meals. Restaurants should also inform about the allergens present in meals, and such information should be displayed in the menu. In the UK, there have been cases wherein restaurants have been sanctioned for large fines due to failure to inform customers about the allergens found in their meals. Sanctions may include jail time for more than a couple of years as well.
Even though it is not required in your country or city, it is a moral responsibility for restaurant operators to inform their customers about the contents of their meals to avoid unfortunate circumstances such as a customer’s death due to an allergic reaction to a certain ingredient found in a meal they ordered.
One of the most important steps in establishing a successful restaurant is carefully considering what type of meals you would offer to your customers. The meals should have a good value proposition, and obviously, it should be safe for all kinds of customers, especially for those who have allergies. That is why most restaurants’ menus avoid meals that contain some of the most common ingredients that are allergens, like peanuts and soybeans.
Restaurants also make sure that, if they were to offer meals that involve ingredients such as chicken or seafood, which may be allergens to some of their customers, they would only prepare a small serving size of it to avoid triggering a severe allergic reaction.
Food may be a good business venture, but you should also know that it is the most challenging one. There are a lot of things that you need to make sure of— from serving the best-tasting dishes to keeping it clean and safe.
If you want your restaurant to be one of the best, it is not enough to serve delicious food. You must also ensure your customers’ safety, especially if they have food allergies. To be able to do that, you must practice safe food handling and preparation. After all, prevention is still and will always be better than cure.
Are you new to the food service? Read ”Changes in Food Service Post-CoVid” to learn more.