The second option is for restaurant operators to create a table that lists all menu items on one axis and the 14 allergens on the second axis. The allergens in each item are checked marked with an X or a check. The advantage of this format is that the restaurant can put together a master list of not only what they are serving but what they might be serving. Both of these formats make it easy for customers, especially potential patrons who are sensitive to certain foods, to find foods that they can safely consume.
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Explore This IssueDecember/January 2020
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The final option is the most complex as it relies on competent servers and observant customers. The restaurant is required to post signage in a visible location in the restaurant or within the menu that the foods they’re serving may contain food allergens. The signage must also state that customers should ask their servers about potential allergens. This requires servers who know the menu and can answer any questions with regard to the presence of allergens. On the whole, a server in a restaurant in the EU is probably better educated with regard to food allergens than a comparable person in the U.S. This may be function of how they do business. Servers in Europe are generally paid better than those in the U.S. and are able to make a living wage in that role. If one talks with persons who have sensitivity to certain foods, however, the consensus is that one really cannot put their faith in the server, whether they are in the U.S. or in Europe.
Any operation that relies on word of mouth to ensure that the message on allergens is delivered to customers must commit to a training program of some sort to ensure that the servers know the menu and which items contain allergens. This program should also include information on the importance of avoidance for sensitive individuals and what happens when such an individual is exposed to a food allergen. Simply telling people that allergens can cause issues such as gastrointestinal distress, skin reactions, respiratory problems, and, in the worst case, systemic problems such as anaphylactic shock and death, really isn’t adequate. We must emphasize this point with photographs and statistics.
There are other materials available to restaurant operators that they can use to augment their allergen management programs. Wiberg Gmbh, an Austrian ingredient supplier, has developed an allergen awareness document that’s used in menus or posted in restaurants. This chart has also been modified for use as a master list. Each item on the chart is assigned a number or letter and the menu items are flagged appropriately. Other organizations such as WKO have developed similar documents.
Lessons for the U.S.
Could we better identify allergens here in the United States? The answer is a resounding YES. There will be challenges, however. One of those is how restaurants and food service are regulated. Individual states and counties or cities within those states need to establish and enforce regulations based on their interpretation of the food code.
A combination of stronger regulation at the state and local levels and a commitment to protecting customers at the restaurant level could enhance allergen awareness in the food service and restaurant industries. This should include, but not be limited to, clearly informing potential customers what allergens are in the menu items and making sure that service staff are properly educated as to what’s in the menu items and the consequences of food allergen exposure. And, finally, the kitchen staff must put into practice programs to avoid cross contact so that foods aren’t inadvertently contaminated with an undeclared allergen. The Applebee’s and Buffalo Wild Wings models would be good examples to follow. Ideally, any person with a food allergy should be able to look at a menu and be completely confident in what he or she orders.
C14 Food Allergens Defined by The European Union
Cereal containing gluten