Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Simple Strategies for Restaurants to Manage Food Allergies June 6, 2017

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Dining out is stressful for those with food allergies.  Very stressful.  We carefully put our lives in the hands of wait staff, cooks and chefs in order to participate in the social aspects that surround food.  A well-educated waiter, manager or chef can create life-long patrons of a food allergic customer.  Negligent or ignorant staff could send that same customer to the hospital (or worse) and impugn their business’s reputation.

 

When dining out goes well, it’s the backdrop of a happy memory (and stomach!).  But when restaurants get it wrong, they don’t just lose a food allergic customer; they lose that person’s entire family and friends.

 

So many pitfalls surrounding food allergies at eating establishments could be easily avoided.

 

Food Allergy Training

It all starts with thorough training.

 

Food allergies and food preferences are NOT the same thing.  Understanding the consequences of ingestion in both cases is important.  Wait and kitchen staff also need to understand what each food allergy means.  I can’t tell you how many times we announce my son’s dairy allergy only to have the waiter return and assure us the meal we inquired about is, in fact,  “gluten-free” or doesn’t have any eggs in it.  This is both unhelpful and makes a customer feel as if the staff doesn’t understand food very well – not to mention food allergies.

 

 

In addition to reviewing how to handle a food allergy request in the kitchen, it’s important to relay some of these solutions to the waitstaff.  They should be able to help the customer think creatively and to reassure them that your restaurant understands their concerns and can prepare a safe meal for them.

 

At one restaurant with a large group of friends, we noticed that a vegetarian burger containing nuts was added to the menu.  This greatly increased the possibility of cross-contamination.  We asked if the restaurant could clean a small portion of the grill before making my son’s hamburger.  No. Could they grill his burger in a pan?  No.  Would they consider grilling his burger on a piece of clean tin foil?  No.  So, we walked across the street and ate there instead.  Instead of thinking flexibly, the restaurant has lost our business – our entire group will not eat there any longer.

 

Conversely, we’ve found a breakfast place that will make my son’s french toast both without milk and cook it in a separate pan to ensure it’s safe.  All done with a smile.

 

 

Prep Waitstaff to Handle Common Questions

In addition to giving waitstaff information about what can and cannot be accommodated in your restaurant’s kitchen, arm them with information about your dishes.

 

If there are only 3 dishes with tree nuts, highlight those items.  Perhaps the kitchen stocks (but does not advertise) gluten-free pasta.  Sorbet does not contain dairy – be sure to point that out!

 

Practice Answering the Customer/Understand their Perspective

 

Give waitstaff, cooks, chefs and managers time to practice responding to customer concerns.  Those with food allergies often feel as if they are imposing on others by asking a lot of questions and getting reassurances that they can eat safely.  In short, they sometimes feel as if their food allergy is an imposition.

 

Restaurants can and should respond with patience and kindness – reducing the stress of dining out and increasing a customer’s positive experience.  But sometimes, they don’t:

 

At one Italian restaurant, there was only ONE item on the menu that would up being safe for my son.  When we mentioned to the waiter that we had asked for it without sauce, he responded poorly.  After making it seem like a huge hassle to redo, he basically suggested my son just suck it up.  Wrong message.

 

You’ll read many more examples in Shmallergy’s upcoming post, Best (and Worst) Practices of Some of Our Favorite Restaurants.

 

Supplier Lists/Binder of Ingredients

Keep a binder (be in digital or paper form) that contains the ingredients of each item used in the kitchen as well as supplier information.  Remember to keep it up-to-date as suppliers and dishes often change.  This makes both checking ingredients as well as seeking answers to food safety questions much simpler.  We’ve flipped through many a supplier/ingredient book which has added a great amount of reassurance to our dining.

 

Another option is to create an allergen menu which allows waitstaff and/or diners to easily reference to allergens.  One restaurant we eat at regularly created one after my son began asking his own food allergy questions.  It doesn’t have to be fancy; just reliable.

 

 

These simple strategies to understand and accommodate food allergies will forge lasting relationships with customers and will enhance your restaurant’s reputation for service.

 

Great Harvest Bread Company Just Got Greater! March 10, 2012

Great Harvest Bread Co.

A fabulous friend of mine just called to let me know that the Great Harvest Bread Company near us sells gluten-free bread every other Tuesday (the next Tuesday is March 20th at their Alexandria, VA location).  Exciting!  Not only do they sell GF bread, but also GF cookies and brownies as well.

 

HOWEVER!  After making several phone calls , it appears that this practice varies widely from franchise to franchise.  So, I would definitely call your local Great Harvest before you go.  You could find that they offer GF products all the time!….or none of the time.  😦

 

If you’re lucky, you’ll land some amazing bread.  Check out these photos and review from glutenfreefever.com: Thursdays are the BEST at Great Harvest Bread Co in Hillsboro.

 

**Also, Great Harvest lists 6 of the top allergens on their website so you can figure out which of their amazing breads are safe for you.

**Great Harvest Bread Nutrition and Allergen Information**

photo of bread loaves

 

Spring Break travel March 3, 2012

If you can’t make it to Dubai this spring break (Danke, Dubai!), but are headed out of town with food allergies, you may want to consider one of these food allergy-friendly establishments:
  • The Kimpton Hotel chain has begun carrying gluten-free items, including pretzels which some of its locations stock in the mini-bar.
  • We already know about Fairmont’s Lifestyle Cuisine menus for guests with dietary preferences.  Now, they’ve begun offering kid’s size portions!
  • The Ritz Carlton and Marriott hotels at large have started noting gluten-free menu items.
  • Omni Hotels and Resorts are offering a gluten-free breakfast buffet section.
  • The Disney properties are notoriously food allergy-friendly, walking guests through buffet lines and guiding them through menus to ensure safe selections.  Call ahead and notify of your allergies.
For more suggestions, see Spring Break Bound.  And, bon voyage!
 

Did You Know Some Vitamins Contain Allergens?! September 19, 2011

Have you ever read the back of a vitamin bottle?  Not just the supplement facts, but the ingredient list?  I was surprised to find just how many common allergens can be found in a given children’s multivitamin.  You’ll probably need a magnifying glass to do it, but it may be worth your time to check.

 

Ever since Silk Soy Milk became a cross-contaminated product (with tree nuts) – one that we could no longer purchase – my FA son has been boycotting all soy and rice milk products.  My concern began to focus on calcium intake.  After stocking up on calcium fortified orange juice, I turned to a multivitamin.

 

I sat down and got comfy in the aisle of our local pharmacy and studied the Supplement Facts section of each bottle to determine which had the most calcium.  I scanned the long lists of ingredients of each product I considered, made my choice, and headed home. My younger son loved them; my FA son…not so much.

 

A few days into the vitamin regime, I randomly skimmed the back of the bottle again.  I don’t know what made me do it, but I’m glad I did.  Among the nine, long lines of teeny tiny printed ingredients was lactose.  Milk!  In a vitamin!  I couldn’t believe it!  He showed no symptoms, thank goodness, and I couldn’t believe I had missed it the first time.

 

Having investigated further since this discovery, I’ve noticed that many vitamins contain common allergens.   In addition to dairy, I’ve seen children’s vitamins that contain wheat, soy, dyes of all colors, corn, and strawberry.

 

To solve my dilemma, I again took a seat– this time, in the aisle of a vitamin store — and carefully read the backs of all of their multivitamins.  I went home with one that contains soy, but is free of wheat, yeast, gluten, milk, artificial colors and all nut derivatives.  I feel much better about its safety and it satisfies my son’s supplement needs.  Now, let’s just hope he likes it…

 

 

International Travel and Food Allergies: Tip for Vacations Abroad January 10, 2011

 

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photo taken by Unsplash via Pixabay

Traveling to a foreign country is a thrill for most people.   But if you live with food allergies, it can feel downright daunting.  It’s hard enough to eat safely in English, nevermind in, say, Tagalog.  Well, never fear: with a little advanced preparation international travel can be fun again and not so frightening.

 

Printing a card which lists your or a family member’s food allergies in the language of the country you plan to visit is a great place to start.   First, creating an allergy card not only allows you to show it at restaurants, but ensures that your allergy won’t be missed at medical facilities of the country you’re visiting.  Secondly, because there are always worries about cross-contamination, an allergy cards can easily be passed from an English-speaking waiter to a non-English speaking chef to further ensure your safety if necessary.

 

There are several ways to obtain these cards.  Two places of note are:

  • AllerGlobal  (http://www.allerglobal.com/) – a free web app that allows a user to check off his/her allergies, choose the language of the country they plan to visit, and either print the information or download it as a PDF file; or
  • You can also purchase laminated cards from Select Wisely (http://www.selectwisely.com/) and other companies in a wide variety of languages.  In addition to allergy cards, they also offer cards advising of lactose intolerance, celiac disease, vegetarians and other sensitivities.  An individual can choose from 37 of the most common food sensitivities and from 12 unique languages to create a translation card specific to your needs.
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A few other tips, especially for traveling with food allergic kids:
  • Pack a supply of snacks that you can rely on as being safe for you or your child.  For us, breakfast and snacks can be particularly hard.  So, I packed an entire suitcase of cereal, PopTarts (not the healthiest, but convenient), and safe snack bags when we traveled abroad for a week.  **Bonus: I had an empty bag to fill with souvenirs on the way home!**
  • Consider carrying anti-bacterial wipes to clean surfaces that may come in contact with the allergic individual.  Think tray tables and seat dividers.  You’ll never regret carrying them.

 

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For other useful information regarding traveling with food allergies, read:  http://www.frommers.com/articles/4838.html#ixzz1AgjKAAsI