There have been numerous comprehensive menu changes in the quick-service segment recently, as chains jockey for position in an increasingly crowded marketplace. But Paul Antico, founder of AllergyEats, warns that some of those changes can have a major impact on good-allergic consumers.
For example, the new Dave's Hot 'N Juicy burger line at Wendy's features toasted buttered buns for the first time, which could impact dairy-allergic customers.
Additionally, Burger King just introduced a new thicker-cut french fry made with ingredients intended to make them "fluffier." The new fries are still free of the "Big 8" allergens (dairy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish and shellfish), but the full list of ingredients has changed and those with less common food allergies need to be made aware of the new ingredient list.
"I appreciate that restaurants need to evolve to stay competitive in the marketplace, but when a restaurant changes their ingredient list or preparation techniques, I believe they should communicate the changes to their customers, knowing that it could impact guests with food allergies," Antico said. "A staff person at Wendy's may not think it's a big deal to butter hamburger buns, but that one seemingly minor change could make a dairy-allergic customer dangerously ill."
Antico added that the food allergy issue is compounded in the QSR segment because of high employee turnover rates.
"At any given time, there's likely someone who is untrained and uneducated about food allergy issues preparing the food," Antico said.
Because of rapidly changing menus, Antico suggests that customers inform restaurant employees about their food allergies and ask about ingredient lists, dedicated fryers and possible cross contact, even if they've comfortably eaten at that establishment in the past.
He also urges all restaurants to clearly inform guests about any changes to their menu, ingredients and food preparation so customers can make more informed decisions about what (and where) to eat.
AllergyEats provides peer-based ratings and feedback about how well (or poorly) restaurants accommodate food-allergic customers. AllergyEats features more than 600,000 restaurants nationwide that users can rate, as well as restaurants' menus (including gluten-free menus), allergen lists, nutrition information, certifications and more.
Read more about food safety.