Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Allergens, Dun, dun, dun dun,….DUHHN!

Get this – The incidence of food allergies in the US has DOUBLED in the past 10 years!* So if it seems like allergies are becoming more common among your diners, they are. It seems like people are getting harder and harder to feed these days with all of their special orders and requests. Special orders (sauce on the side, no tomatoes in a cheese and tomato sandwich,…etc.) were once a matter of catering to taste preferences, now you have to worry about someone’s throat closing up and them dying right there at the table.

In 2006 the FDA began requiring packaged food products to make allergen declarations for the eight most common food allergens (egg, milk, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts). These laws (similar to the nutrition labeling law of 1994) did not and do not apply to restaurants. But as food allergies continue to impact American eating habits, restaurants have to cater to the requests for information and special order requests from their diners.

Should you choose to impart allergen warnings on your website or requested literature here are a few things to keep in mind:
Always check – Look at your vendors’ packaging and allergen warnings, and always ask the manufacturer if you are unsure about something, allergens may be hidden in wording or naming of ingredients.
Track it – Go through each recipe and look at each ingredient. Track ingredients through recipes/sub recipes.
Disclaim – Make it known if you have allergen-containing ingredients on premise. If you do not have strict QA policies and procedures for handling allergen-free items make it known that cross contamination may be a risk.
There’s more to Gluten than just Wheat – Gluten is a whole other topic, but if you chose to take on the task of creating a gluten-free section or list of items be sure to check with each supplier separately and get written confirmation that their products are gluten-free. Gluten-containing items may not be obvious from the ingredients.

If you have enough demand to create procedures for x-free items consider having a professional quality control company help in setting those standards and training.

An estimated 12 million Americans suffer from food allergies, that only accounts for about 4% of the population by the way.* Whether or not it makes sense for you to take on the task of catering to allergy requests is a question of demand.

What do you think? As a restaurateur what is your obligation to meet the special needs of “allergic” patrons? And what are reasonable precautions for them to ask of a restaurant?


*Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network

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