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Allergies - Food Handling Tips
The greatest reward for working at a food establishment is the opportunity to serve delicious meals to your customers. However, some customers will have dietary restrictions and it’s important to remember that nobody’s diet is the same.
Food allergies are a serious concern for those who have them. In fact something as simple as cross-contamination can cause serious 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.
Clean and Sanitize Often
It's important to never underestimate the severity of someone’s food allergy, which is why all foods must be prepared separately. This includes using separate equipment and utensils.
If a cutting board used to chop peanuts it must be properly cleaned and sanitized before it is used to chop lettuce or anything else. Similarly, if a grill was used to cook fish, the grill should be thoroughly cleaned before cooking meat. If kitchen staff are wearing disposable gloves while preparing food with an allergen they should change gloves before moving on to the next meal.
Keeping your kitchen clean at all times helps keep cross-contamination to a minimum. Another quick tip is to buy food that doesn’t require a lot of prepping. This reduces handling time, and less handling time means less risk of transferring contaminants during prep and cooking.
Labelling Meals and Ingredients
Once a dish has been prepared, your staff needs to be able to distinguish it from the other meals going out, especially when allergies are involved. Steak markers with an “allergy” label is one easy visual way to let staff know to be extra cautious when working around or serving the dish. Foods for customers with allergies should always be brought out separately as an additional precaution to avoid accidental cross contamination from servers.
When dealing with ingredients that weren’t used, proper storage is essential. As soon as kitchen staff is done with an ingredient that is a popular allergen they should ensure it's packed, sealed and put away. Double zip bags that meet FDA requirements for food use are perfect for keeping food separated, fresh, and for leaving notes about the contents using the write-on blocks.
Staff Cleanliness and Training
Of course, the possibility of cross-contamination isn’t limited to the kitchen staff doing the food preparations. All 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. Disposable Gloves should 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 and dried using paper towels or air dryers - they should never dry their hair on washcloths or their own uniform. All surfaces inside the kitchen and out should 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 specific staff members who are the resident experts on the topic of food allergies so that there's at least one expert working at all times. This person needs to have full knowledge of the ingredients used in each menu item. This way any other staff with questions know who to go to for important allergy related questions.
Safety is Your Responsibility
We hope this guide has provided you with the details you need to help keep your staff and customers safe. As long as you're enforcing strict cleaning and sanitization guide lines, and staff are properly trained you have all the tools you need to keep customers and staff safe from food allergens!
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