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Are You Paying Enough Attention to Allergies?

Are You Paying Enough Attention to Allergies?
Are You Paying Enough Attention to Allergies?
According to a study published by the CDC in 2014, food allergies affect an estimated 15 million people in the US alone, and nearly half of the reported fatal food allergy reactions over a 13-year period were caused by food from a restaurant or other food service establishment. Of course, since then many restaurants have become more aware and conscientious, but the data continues to show that not enough restaurants are taking sufficient precautions to prevent customers being harmed by reactions to allergens that can come up in the food they eat unknowingly. The issue of tackling food allergy safety can seem daunting, especially in a busy commercial kitchen; not only does it require special training that should be renewed fairly frequently, but the restaurant supplies budget does go up in order to be able to accommodate the need to safely serve customers. On the other hand, if customers come into your business expecting a lovely night and end up in the hospital, that is not going to reflect well on your brand-- so it’s definitely worth making the investment to check on how well your restaurant manages this issue. There are a few things that you can do right away to get a handle on the important problem of making sure your customers-- all of your customers-- have a great time at your restaurant. Audit your existing procedures and resources The first step in finding out what will need to be changed or fixed in your restaurant is to find out what the baseline is. There are a number of companies that offer free or low-cost audits for food safety especially in regards to allergens and sensitivities; consider reaching out and getting a professional, informed opinion from them, and schedule a visit. Even before you do that, though, there are a few steps that you can take on your own to get a feel for how well your restaurant manages the special requirements that people with allergies may have. Check with your front-of- house staff to find out how knowledgeable they are not just about what kinds of food allergies exist, but the menu itself, and how to deal with questions about potential food allergens. Make sure that your customer-facing staff all understand how important the issue is. If you find that your servers are not as knowledgeable as they need to be-- particularly in ingredients in your restaurant’s dishes-- set up an off-hours program to help them get to know the menu better, or a Q&A with the chefs to get the full details. Encourage them to hold onto the information with pop quizzes and/or little rewards for those who have the best performance and retain the new information best. In the kitchen, find out how well your chefs can accommodate a variety of food sensitivities and allergies. If there are gaps in what tools your back-of- house staff have and what they need, take the opportunity to order some new restaurant supplies to make sure that your people can easily prevent cross-contamination, and isolate special dishes from other prep areas where allergens can get into the finished product. Educate yourself Knowing where your restaurant stands, and what it needs, is the best way to figure out how to make your food not just delicious but safe for everyone who comes into your business. There are many free resources available online for educating yourself on the most common food allergies, the best protocols to follow for sensitive customers, and how to incorporate those protocols into the workflow for your business. In addition to those free resources, as mentioned before there are multiple organizations and companies that provide training and reinforcement activities. You can get an audit on current procedures and then schedule classes for the people working for you-- as well as yourself-- to make sure that you know how to do things properly. This includes not just making sure that your kitchen isn’t accidentally exposing customers to allergens, and making sure the front-of- house staff is informed on how to handle special requests and allergies, but also incorporating information for your customers themselves on your menus. While reprinting menus can get pricey, you can start out with a small number of on- request menus that your servers can provide to customers who are aware of their allergies and ask for additional information. While this may seem like a lot of effort, it will pay off in a big way for your restaurant. Not only does making your restaurant safe for all customers who come in to eat there a way to prevent a major opportunity for liability, but the care you take in creating a safe environment will pay off in customer loyalty and recommendations.
4 years ago
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