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Food allergies: how to make sure your restaurant is safe

  1. Assorted vegetables
    Katie Mather

    Katie Mather UKBF Newcomer Free Member

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    Food allergies have been in the news frequently of late, and while the stories are scary for anyone who suffers with allergies themselves, they’re also a big blaring alarm for commercial kitchens and the chefs who work within them. 

    When it comes to allergies, there is no grey area. While the law has made protecting allergy-suffering guests and customers essential for a number of years now, mistakes are still occurring, with life-threatening consequences.

    However, mistakes can be avoided with the right preparation. Creating meals in a kitchen doesn’t have to be a risk-addled operation, as long as you’ve completed the right assessments and understand the importance of avoiding cross-contamination.

    Training, training, training

    “It’s all about training,” says Stosi Madi, chef and co-owner of The Parkers Arms, an acclaimed gastropub in the Hodder Valley.

    “We all had to be compliant three years ago, but we’ve been aware, ready and trained for many years. Ten years ago we were making gluten-free meals for diners with wheat allergies, fifteen years ago we were making vegan food.”

    “When you welcome a guest into your restaurant, you are welcoming them into your home. You want them to be safe, comfortable and welcome. We take it upon ourselves to prepare something not only safe but something that they will enjoy eating.”

    Angus McKeen, chef at Fullers’ Red Lion pub in Barnes, London agrees. 

    “A lot of it is about awareness and being proactive. Be the person to push the subject. If you lead the conversation, everyone, including the public, will understand how important it is.”

    “Every member of our staff gets the allergen training as soon as they start, and it’s refreshed every year. This training goes through everything, from what allergens are to the effects they have on allergy sufferers, and how we treat allergens in the kitchen.”

    “Controlling allergens in the kitchen is as important as controlling bacteria. From an allergen-control point of view, I liken a hand covered in flour to a hand that’s been down a toilet – it’s honestly that serious.”

    The fourteen allergens – and how to control them

    According to the Food Standards Agency, you must let your customers know if you are serving food with any of the following 14 ingredients. These are the main registered allergens in Great Britain.

    • Celery
    • Cereals containing gluten
    • Crustaceans
    • Eggs
    • Fish
    • Lupin
    • Milk
    • Molluscs
    • Mustard
    • Tree nuts
    • Peanuts
    • Sesame seeds
    • Soybeans
    • Sulphur dioxide and sulphites

    For McKeen, the easiest way to draw attention to potential allergens within the food he prepares is by using specialist software that takes a lot of the legwork out of staying safe.

    “We use software called Starchef, or an updated version called Tenkites, which allows us to see clearly what may cause issues for a guest who suffers with allergies. We write our recipes up, then load it into the software. It comes out the other side with a detailed report, which our customers can look at if they like.”

    Once he’s learned of the potential risks in the food he’s preparing that day, he can separate ingredients in different containers and clean-down to ensure no cross-contamination occurs. 

    Ask the question, open the conversation

    If you’re serious about the safety of your guests – and you should be – the best thing you can do is talk to them.

    “It’s simple for us because we prepare everything in house, so we know exactly what goes into everything,” says Madi. 

    “We also ask customers every step of the way to tell us about their allergies and preferences so we can help them. We call allergy sufferers up and talk through what they would like to eat, so we can prep it for them”

    “We also make it very clear that if they have a very severe allergy that we advise bringing an epi-pen just in case. We have first-aiders on site and we know how to use them, and most customers with allergies are happy to bring their epi-pens as a precaution.”

    Caring for the customer

    While allergen information must be provided by law, Stosi Madi insists that protecting your customers goes beyond that.

    “It’s not just about highlighting information, it’s about knowing about possible risks. It’s not enough to say that the customer knows about the risks, you have a duty of care. Make sure the managers support the staff, and let the customer know you have done everything you can to take the responsibility away from them.”

    Advice from the pros

    Stosi Madi:

    “Read everything the industry has to say about the subject. Eat casual, eat fine and look at the risks you encounter and see what you can do the same or even better in your kitchen. Make sure your staff are trained, aware and on their toes, and ready to act where necessary.”

    Angus McKeen:

    “Don’t ad-lib. This is the most painful part of the process, but you must stick to your planned recipes. Use the software or tools at your disposal to make your life easier, and always make your customers aware of the information available for them to see.”

    “It’s just a change of habits, and now it’s second nature to us.”

  2. Mark P Trotter

    Mark P Trotter Guest

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    I found the article interesting but I am going to be a little difficult. Yes, restaurants need to be aware of allergies and have the appropriate information available. But the customer still needs to be the decerning party. Each allergy presents in a slightly different way therefore, the customer needs to make the kitchen aware.
    Posted: Oct 25, 2019 By: Mark P Trotter Member since: Jan 1, 1970
  3. Pembroke99

    Pembroke99 UKBF Newcomer Free Member

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    “We also make it very clear that if they have a very severe allergy that we advise bringing an epi-pen just in case. We have first-aiders on site and we know how to use them, and most customers with allergies are happy to bring their epi-pens as a precaution.”

    I'm slightly amazed by this statement I would've thought anyone with a severe enough allegy to warant having an epipen would carry it at all times.
    Posted: Oct 25, 2019 By: Pembroke99 Member since: Oct 2, 2017