Cooking with Allergies
There are specific precautions that need to be taken when cooking for people suffering from food allergies...
There are multiple precautions that need to be taken when cooking for someone who has food allergies. The level of dedication and care taken to prepare a regular meal needs to be doubled to successfully make a meal for someone who, specifically, has severe food allergies. The following cover the main ways in which to properly cater to someone with food allergies.
Ensure zero cross contamination/cross contact: One of the main causes of allergic reactions in restaurants is cross contamination. Most people will understand the allergen should not be incorporated in the meal, however, there is very little understanding on the concept that if for example, a spoon was used to stir a dish containing nuts, the same spoon needs to be washed multiple times under hot water to then be used for someone allergic to nuts. Another example can be seen in something as simple as butter. Butter is used in all kinds of cooking and a variety of cuisines. It is usually packaged as a block and when used is scraped off with a knife. The issue comes up when the butter is then spread on bread and then put back in the butter. Here, the bread crumbs remain in the butter and have therefore contaminated the butter. Even trace amounts can cause these reactions which is why cross contamination is so dangerous.
Some ways to avoid cross contamination could be to:
Have a separate work space when cooking for people with allergens that is always kept completely clean
If a separate work space is not available, remove any food containing the allergens from the area and wipe down the area with a clean cloth or a disposable paper towel
Use stainless steel pans for cooking as they can be cleaned effectively and no trace particles of the allergen will remain
If the restaurant sees multiple customers with allergies to common allergens, having separate cookware for allergic individuals could prove useful. This cookware can further be colour coded to prevent any misunderstanding
When loading dishes into the dishwasher, make sure that they are rinsed first so if in the future, a meal needs to be prepared for someone who is allergic to certain ingredients there will be no doubt of the cleanliness of the plates. Rinsing well will eliminate any larger particles of allergens while the dishwasher will then additionally clean them.
Clearly knowing the allergens: A mistake that occurs more times than it should is that the waiter and chef (especially) are not completely sure what specific foods the allergy covers. As an example, if a customer is allergic to nuts, he or she could be referring to all baype, or to all in general. In these cases of doubt, the details need to be asked, as the worst way for the customer to get a reaction is to actually have the allergen in the food without knowing they’re allergic to it. The customer would far prefer for you to ask if you had a doubt instead of getting sick.
Preparing food for allergy sufferers first: If a chef is cooking for a group of people and one is allergic to a certain food, prepare their meal first. This will ensure that all the utensils, cookware and the workplace are completely clean and will further make sure that tougher meal is out of the way first.
Educate staff on allergies and the severity about them: Often in restaurants, the owner or manager will be aware of allergies and their severity but not the actual staff who are conveying information to the chef. One vital method in order to cook safely for customers who have food allergies is to educate the wait staff and the chef about the importance of taking an allergy seriously. They are often understood as dislikes rather than illnesses which then means that
they are not taken as seriously as they should be. To educate effectively, a person of authority should discuss it, or perhaps a representative of an allergy foundation; someone who will have an impact. As well as this, posters, websites and videos could work well too.
Knowing when to say, 'I can't': Sometimes in restaurants, the staff are just not confident that they can properly provide for someone suffering from severe allergies. They may not understand the allergens properly, or maybe they think that there is no way to guarantee zero cross contamination. Either way, while it may be inconvenient to the person wanting to eat at your restaurant, it is much better to just be upfront and let them know that you cannot do it. This is much safer for the person, and far responsible too.