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revised February 03, 2012

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Protecting your customers from food allergy reactions

People with food allergies must be very careful of what they eat because allergic reactions can sometimes be fatal. Dining out can create an increased risk of having a food allergy reaction.

The good news is that food allergy reactions can be prevented. Ensuring the safety of your customers is a shared responsibility between the customer and all food service staff. Giving customers accurate ingredient information and using allergy-safe food handling procedures will help to protect customers at your restaurant, and customers will appreciate your efforts to meet their special needs.

These are important steps to protect your customers from food allergy reactions.

Have a food ingredient information policy

A starting point in establishing a food ingredient policy is to review all recipes to identify possible allergy-causing foods. You should also check ingredient lists on packaged and processed foods. If ingredient information is not available, contact the supplier or distributor. It is important that changes to ingredient lists be communicated and updated quickly.

Communicate

It is important to decide which method(s) is best for you to communicate information about food ingredients and preparation. Ingredient information must always be accurate.

Many restaurants list the food ingredients with each menu item. However, this may not always be accurate because menus are not updated very often and standard recipes may not be followed exactly.

Here are some methods of finding food ingredient information quickly and accurately:

  • Allergy Charts
  • Recipe Binders
  • Designated Employee

Your local public health inspector is an excellent contact for information about preventing food allergies. Food suppliers also play an important role in preventing food allergies. Ask them to notify you of any changes in ingredients and to double check ingredient lists on a regular basis.

Find out if in doubt

If you are unsure of the EXACT ingredients, tell the customer that you don’t know; people will appreciate your honesty. Guessing can be deadly.

Encourage customers to ask about menu items by including a simple note on the menu, such as:
“INGREDIENT INQUIRIES ARE WELCOME. PLEASE ASK YOUR SERVER FOR MORE INFORMATION.”

It is also important to remember that food labels may not always identify allergy-causing foods, such as peanuts or peanut products. Ingredients described as hydrolyzed plant protein or other names, such as noughat, should alert food handlers that a product may contain peanut protein.

If in doubt, offer to bring the label to the customer’s table so that they can decide whether the food is safe to eat.

Respond to customer concerns

Treat all customer concerns about food ingredients seriously.

Don’t put yourself or your customer at risk by trying to decide if the customer has a true food allergy or simply dislikes the food. It is important to respond to customers’ questions with accurate information. Any employee providing inaccurate or misleading information about food ingredients may be libel for disciplinary action. The extra time required to respond to all food information requests is worth it!

Prepare food safely

  • Always wash your hands before preparing and handling food.
  • Thoroughly clean and sanitize work and cooking surfaces, utensils and any equipment that touches the food. Remember that very small amounts of food can cause an allergic reaction for some people.
  • Use separate cooking equipment and utensils when preparing foods for customers with food allergies.
  • Store allergy-causing foods separately in both the fridge and dry storage.
  • Be sure to label all food products with common names and ingredients whenever possible.

Have emergency procedures

It is important for every food service operation to establish a medical emergency procedure. Training in emergency response procedures will prepare food handlers and service staff to handle emergency situations, such as anaphylactic shock.

Post the emergency procedures where everyone can see them. Include the local ambulance telephone number on the poster.


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Revised: February 03, 2012

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