Allergen Management and Control at your Restaurant

Marshalee Valentine

Thursday, March 14, 2019

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I magine sitting in a Japanese restaurant watching your meal being prepared, all that flipping and flaming to prepare a tasty meal. You've advised the chef that you are allergic to shellfish; however, another member of your dining party has ordered shrimp. While watching the chef carefully, you realise that while he prepared the meals separately, he used the same glove and utensils to prepare the shellfish as well as your chicken and veggies. Believe it or not, this happens quite frequently. Millions of people suffer from food allergies and even a small trace of allergen from food, whether in meals or on utensils, can cause deadly allergic reactions. Preventative actions can however be implemented to reduce the likelihood of such a tragedy, as the only real preventative measure is to avoid using allergens in our restaurants — which I'm sure isn't that feasible for some.

Firstly, you will need to identify the allergens handled in your restaurant and plan for the preparation of meals which will include those ingredients. A member of your restaurant team should be appointed to monitor the procurement, delivery, sorting, storage and use of foods containing allergens and staff must be trained on the handling of same. Ensure all staff members understand the differences between food allergies and intolerances and how to handle customers stating they have food allergies. Create a procedure/policy for allergen management, and ensure all employees are trained periodically on same.

Another important preventative measure is alerting customers of allergens present or allergens being handled in your restaurant. The reality is your employees won't always remember to notify patrons, so it is recommended that you create and post signage for customers to see, along with detailing the ingredients in your dishes while developing your menus (you can post an allergen-alert sticker beside high risk-foods). Alternatively, you can offer substitutes to customers with food allergies.

In the event that a customer indicates they have food allergies, ensure that there are plans in place to prepare their food in a manner that does not result in cross-contamination. Employees will need to ensure that all utensils, gloves and other equipment used to prepare foods with allergens do not come in contact with, or are properly sanitised before handling, food being prepared for that customer. Additionally, there needs to be an employee on site to communicate with and an emergency allergen plan, in the event a mishap occurs.

Adopt a culture of “when in doubt, throw it out”. Customers must not be served a meal if employees are uncertain about the status of the food. Allergen management is crucial to not only your patrons, but to the reputation of your business. Millions of dollars in lawsuits can be avoided if attention is paid to this area often ignored.

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