While most restaurants do not require their employees to be certified food allergen experts, the right knowledge and training for your restaurant’s employees can make a crucial difference in reducing your liability. National Food Safety Month may be over, but safe food handling where it concerns food allergies is a year-round must. Ingredients that are commonly seen in almost every restaurant’s menu – milk, fish, wheat, nuts, shellfish, eggs – can have some uncommonly devastating effects on patrons with certain food allergies. It is estimated that over 15 million Americans are allergic to some of the most common kitchen ingredients, which could very well threaten their lives and your business in an emergency situation.
Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to ensuring that your staff is properly trained and educated about food allergies, so your guests can feel safe eating at your restaurant and your staff will feel comfortable knowing how to safely handle restaurant equipment to prepare allergy-sensitive food. The list of food allergy preparedness to-dos include:
1. Make a plan. When thinking about how first to ensure food allergies are handled safely at your establishment, try to make a plan that answers questions such as:
• Who is responsible for checking the ingredients used in your menu items?
• How can kitchen staff effectively avoid cross-contact between potentially allergenic foods?
• Who is responsible for answering customers’ questions about menu items and ingredients?
• In the case of a food allergy-related emergency, how should staff members handle the situation?
2. Educate and train FOH and BOH staff. Because customers with known allergies are usually very good about inquiring about ingredients that may cause them problems, the front of house staff should be well-prepared to answer such questions or know to whom to pass the question along. Both front and back of house staff should be aware of the ingredients of specific menu items. It is especially important that kitchen staff be taught the correct steps to take in ensuring that no allergens are passed to the affected customer through cross-contamination in the kitchen.
3. Designate a specialist. When there are questions that the FOH staff may not be able to answer with certainty, there should be an expert in the restaurant who can field questions. This person should have extensive knowledge of ingredients used in dishes on the menu – for example, a customer with a sesame allergy may ask that there be no sesame seeds on the bun, but a food allergy expert would be able to tell them that the buns are partially made of sesame flour.
4. Provide information and start a dialogue. It’s a good idea to include some short discourse at the bottom of your restaurant menu reminding customers that you are sensitive to their food allergy needs. For example, a simple statement such as “Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns about food allergies” will prompt the customer to bring to the server’s attention that they do have a food allergy. A list of ingredients used in your menu’s items should also be kept on hand, available to customers when they are concerned about their food allergies.
So as your restaurant begins its holiday preparations in anticipation of the New Year, be sure not to let your food safety standards fall by the wayside. Have some good kitchen safety tips of your own? Share them with us on Facebook or Twitter!