If you own a restaurant or other type of dining establishment, you may want to consider being able to accommodate people who have food allergies. According to Food Allergy Research & Education, 4% of adults and 8% of children have food allergies, and food allergies have increased in children at a rate of 50% between 1997 and 2011.
According to statistics, 200,000 emergency room visits each year are attributed to food allergy reactions. Some reactions can cause anaphylaxis, which can be a deadly allergic reaction. Due to the severity and the continuing increase in food allergies among the U.S. population, many restaurants and eateries are developing and implementing customer service plans for patrons who have life-threatening food allergies.
Here are a few things you can do to decrease your customers' risks and increase your customer base.
Develop a new menu with allergen warnings
Give your customers more options by developing food items that would be safe for those who have the most common food allergens: eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, soy, tree nuts, and shellfish. Use the food product labels for all your ingredients to annotate which items have the common food allergens.
Print menus that clearly define which foods contain allergens. Small pictures underneath each menu item description can help your customers make their choices. For example, a desert that contains peanuts can have a picture of a peanut with a red X crossed over it. Place a disclaimer in your menu that tells customers to notify their server if they have a food allergy. There's no need to ask customers if they have a food allergy. Those who have life-threatening allergies have learned to ask because their lives depend on it.
Train at least one person for each shift to personally handle allergen requests
Train some or all of your staff to handle customers who state they have a food allergy. You should have at least one trained person on staff for each shift. Preferably, this individual should have some authority in your establishment, such as a manager or assistant manager. Training can take place in any local community college or online through educational services. You can learn more about classes in your area or online by contacting your local health department.
These staff members will learn about the dangers of cross-contact and how to avoid it. They will also learn how to read labels and prepare food safely for customers who have food allergies. Assign these individuals the responsibility of preparing the dishes and serving the customers upon the customers' requests and do not permit any untrained personnel to perform any of the tasks.
The prepared dishes should be garnished by the trained personnel and delivered to the customer separately. That way, there is no risk of cross-contact in case one plate touches another plate as sometimes happens in a busy restaurant.
Purchase new equipment and supplies, and designate a safe area for preparation
The best way to avoid cross-contact is to have a separate area in which the only foods prepared are for those who have requested allergen safe foods. For example, in this area, there should be at least one fryer, grill, oven and any other type of equipment that your restaurant uses to prepare food.
Equipment (such as pans, food processors, and utensils) should remain in the designated area and not be used to prepare or serve other allergen-containing foods. Equipment should be thoroughly cleaned in between each meal preparation to avoid cross-contact from one customer's meal to the next. It's a good idea to clearly identify the allergen-safe equipment and supplies by purchasing new ones in a bright color. Contact a professional supplier like Louis Wohl & Sons Inc to see what options are available.