As serious as a heart attack

Jan. 31, 2012 | by Betsy Craig

If you want to know why more diners are asking more questions about your menu – and your kitchen – consider how serious food allergies are.

In January, a 7-year-old girl in Virginia with a severe allergy to peanuts died after eating a nut given to her by another child on the school playground.

Peanuts are among the most lethal of the Big Eight food allergens. But for diners who are sensitive, any exposure to their trigger – be it milk, soy, eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat, or anything else -- can cause unpleasant consequences.

So how do you keep your kitchen – and your patrons – safe?

First of all, take all special requests from diners seriously. I know that during a busy shift, somebody who wants to hear about all the ingredients in every dish can be an incredible pain in the neck. I am that person sometimes.

But consider how much more disruption to your business would occur if your servers were "too busy" to let an allergic patron know about the peanut oil in the vegetable stir fry, and the paramedics showed up for dessert.

Then be sure that you have procedures in place to avoid cross-contamination, both in the kitchen and on the way to the table. It can be hard to imagine that enough minute particles of that peanut oil flying around the stove could land on an allergic diner's pasta to cause a reaction, but they can.

The good news is that there are policies and procedures you can implement in your operation to provide a safe dining experience for everyone.

Allergy-safe food preparation starts the moment a diner arrives – or even before, if the patron mentions any sensitivities when making a reservation. Front of the house staff should alert all servers, both waiters and bussers, and the kitchen that an allergic diner is seated at a particular table.

That should set in motion protocols that keep the banana walnut muffins out of the bread basket if the allergy is to nuts, and use of pots, pans, utensils and serving plates that are kept separate from all other kitchen items. The meal itself should be covered until it reaches the customer to keep out any airborne particles like that hot peanut oil.

Don't be surprised if more diners want to hear more about not only what is in your dishes but how they are prepared, to help ferret out any possible offenders. You might want to designate a senior member of the waitstaff or a manager to be the point person when dealing with diners with allergy concerns.

And in the event that someone should have an allergic reaction while dining, be sure there is someone on the premises at all times who is trained in the proper steps to take in an emergency. (Disclosure, my Kitchens with Confidence provides AllerTrain training).

Preventing allergic reactions in your customers, and letting everyone know you take their concerns very, very seriously, can only be good for business.

Topics: Food & Beverage , Food Safety , Health & Nutrition , Operations Management , Staffing & Training

Betsy Craig / Betsy Craig brings 20 years of food service industry experience to MenuTrinfo, LLC a menu nutritional labeling Company. Her commitment to the betterment of the food industry and her desire to affect the dining public are the driving forces behind her new company Kitchens with Confidence, LLC.
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