The greatest reward for working at a food establishment is the opportunity to serve delicious meals to your customers. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that nobody’s diet is the same. Food allergies are a serious concern for those who have them, and cross-contamination can cause medical complications. That’s why today we’re going to share some tips on how to handle food allergies in your kitchen.
Understanding Food Allergies
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the eight major food allergies are:
- Crustacean Shellfish - Includes crab, lobster and shrimp.
- Fish - Includes bass and cod.
- Tree Nuts - Includes almonds and walnuts.
These foods account for almost 90 percent of allergic reactions. Complicating matters is that many ingredients are derived from these foods. Fortunately, there are steps you and your staff can take to reduce risks of cross-contamination.
Separating and Labeling Foods
Never should you underestimate the severity of someone’s food allergy, which is why all foods must be prepared separately. This includes using separate equipment and utensils. For example, a cutting board used to chop peanuts shouldn’t be used to chop lettuce before it’s cleaned. If a grill was used to cook fish, the grill should be cleaned before cooking meat. Keeping your kitchen clean at all times helps keep cross-contamination to a minimum. Another option is to buy food that doesn’t require a lot of prepping. This reduces handling time, and therefore the risk of transferring contaminants.
Once a dish has been prepared, your staff needs to be able to distinguish it from the other meals going out. Steak markers with an “allergy” label is one way to let staff know to be extra cautious when working around or serving the dish. When dealing with ingredients that weren’t used, proper storage is essential. Double zip bags that meet FDA requirements for food applications are perfect for this purpose, and have write-on blocks to leave notes about their contents. Finally, foods for customers with allergies should be brought out separately.
Staff Cleanliness and Training
Of course, the possibility of cross-contamination isn’t limited to food preparations. Employees can accidentally spread allergens if they’re not following necessary cleaning procedures and personal hygiene guidelines. All clothing must be clean, and employees shouldn’t wear jewelry or other accessories that could come in contact with food. Gloves must be worn at all times by employees, and should be switched out once they’re finished working with a particular ingredient. Hands must be washed using paper towels or air dryers and not uniforms or used washcloths. All surfaces should also be wiped down and sanitized once they’ve come into contact with food.
All employees need to be trained on how to handle food to prevent allergic reactions. There are many misconceptions regarding food allergies, such as the differences between an allergy and an intolerance. Proper training will correct these misconceptions and prevent disastrous experiences for customers. You should have someone on staff who’s an expert on the topic. This person needs to have full knowledge of the ingredients used in each menu item, and answer questions that other workers have.
While we’ve provided an overview of how to handle food allergies at your establishment, there’s much more to learn. For further information, you can visit sites including the FDA , FoodAllergy.org and Food Service Warehouse .
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