“I became acutely embarrassed about my food allergies—I didn’t want to talk about it.” It seemed few understood, and fewer still were willing to accommodate what could easily be a life-threatening allergic sensitivity.
In self-defense, Holland set out to get an education. Training as a nutritionist, and then working in commercial kitchens, Holland came to understand the product, and the production line, and became an expert on where the hazards lie. Her focus now is on food service.
“Often times people’s most serious reactions happen inside a restaurant—they encounter the allergen where they have no control.” And hazards can be commonplace. “You tell the server, ‘no nuts’ and the server forgets to write it down, or worse, the line cook doesn’t see it or ignores it, or the dish is premade and the server picks off the nuts and brings it to your table.” An hour later you’re in the hospital.
A second offense is ignorance of ingredients. “You may think the soy sauce is gluten free but often it is not, you may think there’s no garlic in the condiment, but there is…”
For the first offense, Holland can offer an allergy audit of an operation, followed by staff training, online or in person. “For the most part, servers really do care; it’s just that sometimes they have no idea.”
As to the second offense, Holland has, with her nutritionist and restaurant background and the help of a software designer, put together a program tailor-made to each restaurant client, a program that provides an allergy-free menu to the customer and alerts to the kitchen.
The AllerSmart program works like this: All the ingredients for all menu items are input into the program. When the customer says, “I’m allergic to shellfish,” the server enters that information, the program then generates a list of shellfish-free options. Further, the kitchen receives an alert that table six has a shellfish sensitivity, so be extra careful to avoid cross-contact on the prep line.
Holland says reactions to the program are positive. “They tell us that it will save them money on training (staff turnover is generally high) and moreover, minimizes their liability regarding law suits.”
And it’s just plain good for business. “Once you’ve served that person with special needs, they will be forever loyal. We see increases from 8 to 25 percent in revenue with food allergic diners,” comments Holland.
Canavan is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Reach him at email@example.com.