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.

 

Teal Pumpkin Project for Food Allergy Awareness During Halloween October 27, 2014

Filed under: Holiday,Preparedness — malawer @ 12:47 pm
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My kids and I were asked to do a news segment yesterday for Fox 5 News about Food Allergies during Halloween.  As we all know, having food allergies during a food centric holiday can be very difficult.  Luckily, FARE aims to make that easier with its #TealPumpkinProject.  Please watch the clip and pass it on!  I think it goes without say that Halloween would be even MORE fun if it were more inclusive and SAFE for all children!

 

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Our segment is running throughout today, but in case you missed it or don’t live in the DC market – here you go:

Teal Pumpkin Project for food allergy awareness – DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG.

 

And, please read my next post for Trick or Treating tips and non-food Halloween ideas!

Teal Pumpkin Project
 

Put This on Your To Do List Today: Food Allergy Action Plan October 15, 2014

Severe Allergy Action Plan

One of the most helpful food allergy documents I ever received first came, not from our wonderful allergist, but from our  pediatrician.  An Allergy Action Plan is a vital document for you and your family.  It clearly outlines what to do and who to call in a variety of allergic situations.  It spells out how much medication to give and reminds the reader if the patient is asthmatic.

We keep copies of our Allergy Action Plan everywhere.  I have one in our emergency medication basket in the kitchen, one in the car glove compartment, one in our Emergency On-The-Go Kit, one at school, one at religious school, and others at camp.  Now that I’m writing this, I think I should give a copy to my parents and in-laws so that they can familiarize themselves with the right course of action and know where to access this crucial information in case my son is staying with them (even if his On-The-Go Kit also contains one).

To complete your Food Allergy Action Plan today:

1.  First download Allergy Shmallergy’s:  AS – Severe Allergy Action Plan;

2.  Bring to your allergist or pediatrician to fill out.  This is not for a parent/patient to complete;

3.  Make more copies than you think is necessary to display/distribute to anywhere you/your child keeps epinephrine;

4.  Date the document and remember to update it every 12 months.

 

New Years Resolution? Learn to Cook and Avoid Food Preparation Problems! January 13, 2014

Eight years ago, when my son was first diagnosed with food allergies, I was a terrible cook.  Truly terrible.  If you saw the Discovery Channel documentary, you may have noticed the burnt spoon that had caught fire when I “blackened” chicken noodle soup.  That’s right:  I burnt soup.  Take a moment:  I know you’re all very impressed.

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As soon as the doctor listed my son’s food allergies (at that time: peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, dairy, eggs, soy, wheat and corn), I was thrust into a whole new world.  One in which I would have to cook.  And, the result would need to be edible. (Gasp!)

 

Now, many years later, I actually enjoy cooking.  I can’t have enough cookbooks and I love the challenge of turning something that isn’t initially allergy-friendly into something safe and delicious.

 

But the biggest bonus must be the understanding and innate sense of what goes into a dish.  It has helped me innumerable times to determine what is safe for my son while we’re out enjoying the world!

 

It’s important to have a sense not only of ingredients, but also of the process in the kitchen.  A sampling of questions, I’ve needed to ask are:

  • Can you check the breading on fish?  Or, the breadcrumbs in the meatballs?  Breadcrumbs very often contain sesame seeds.
  • Are the chicken nuggets/calamari/fried zucchini coated with egg?
  • Is there egg in the salad dressing?  Some contain either eggs or mayonnaise.
  • Does that sauce contain flour?  Many are thickened with gluten flour.
  • Is there parmesan cheese in the marinara?
  • Do you add milk to your scrambled eggs/omelet/pancakes?

The more hands-on experience you have in the kitchen, the more you’ll understand what kinds of things you may need to look out for in others’ kitchens.  You’ll be surprised at how often you save yourself from a potential reaction.  So, cook and speak up!

 

Here are a few tips for starting out:

  • If you’re brand new in the kitchen, don’t feel overwhelmed by trying to make a main dish and sides.  It’s okay to try ONE new recipe and buy preprepared sides or make a new side dish and buy roasted chicken.
  • While looking at recipes, don’t be put off if they include your allergen.  Simply do a little research to see if there’s a safe alternative and/or omission.  We just omit peanuts from our Kung Pao Chicken dish.  And, we sub-in soy milk for regular in pancakes.
  • In choosing a recipe:  read the recipe in full once before you even go shopping.  It may call for “1 garlic clove, minced” which you could mince yourself or buy pre-prepared.
  • And, while reading the recipe, take note of prep time as well as cooking time.  Ingredient lists often list ingredients that have been pre-prepared like garlic noted above, a pie-crust pre-baked, or “3 cups spinach, sauteed”.   This translates to time, so simply be aware and plan accordingly.  This was tricky for me for a while.  I can’t tell you how many times I served a meal a whole HOUR after I thought it would be ready.
 

Good luck, watch your soup, and send me picts (and samples – mmmm!) of your best recipes!

photo: countryliving.com
 

Play Date, Anyone? Friendship with Food Allergies January 19, 2011

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photo taken by kaboompics via pixabay

I’ll admit it:  when my son was first invited to go on play dates without me, I was nervous.  Okay, I was panicked.   It would be one of the first times my son was being fed outside of my supervision or in the nut-free safety of his preschool.  Our first drop-off play date was at the house of a family with whom we had spent a lot of time.  This was as much to comfort me as it was for my son.  Before dropping him off, I called the mother and discussed my child’s food allergies and was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to set up a carefree play date.

It’s wonderful watching your child grow and develop friendships.  Play dates are an integral part of that experience.  To have a successful play date away from home, I would suggest considering the following:

  • Talk about food choices that you know are safe – and BE BRAND SPECIFIC.  The hostess of our playdate had planned to feed the kids lunch and we discussed a variety of safe meal options. Once decided (we chose chicken nuggets and noodles), I asked if she minded if I emailed her the brand names of the pasta and nuggets that were safe for my son, since some others contained unsafe ingredients.
  • Bring safe snacks for the kids to share.  Consider it a hostess gift!  We brought two of my son’s favorite snacks which were voraciously devoured.  To this day (3 years later) these items are always on-hand at her house for my child or others with similar allergies.
  • Discuss commonly encountered scenarios with the other parent and how to handle them.  You know your child and can predict if he/she will, for example, eat strange objects off the floor, grab food without asking, or throw a fit if certain safe foods aren’t available.   Give them words to handle these encounters.  “I know you can have some kinds of cookies, Billy.  But since I’m not sure these are safe, let’s wait until your mommy comes before I give one to you.”
  • This is a good time to discuss good playdate behavior with your child, especially how THEY should handle food issues.  This includes rules about eating only off your own plate, asking if foods are safe, speaking to the host parent if something doesn’t feel right and general expectations of safe food availability.   “Joey’s house doesn’t have soy milk, so why don’t you drink water while you’re there today and we’ll get a yummy glass of milk when I pick you up.”

My son had a fantastic time on his first play date – and on many more since!  Turns out, most other parents are more tuned in than you think.  I should have been more nervous about my son wetting his pants (which he did! Oops!) than having an allergic reaction.  It’s comforting to know that other parents are just as concerned about your child’s safety as you are.  Keeping your son or daughter safe while independent from you is not only practical, but should be the goal for every parent of a food-allergic child.