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With over 250 food allergens and 15 million Americans diagnosed with food allergies, it’s important for all restaurant owners to purchase liability insurance and take proper action in protecting your customers. Educating both yourself and your staff on the most common types of food allergies, like peanuts, wheat, soy, fish, and others, and how to take care of customers with these allergies will lead to fewer mistakes and emergency situations. Accommodating customers who suffer from food allergies is no small task, but if the proper steps are taken, it can help create reoccurring business for years to come
Prevent Cross Contamination
A major allergen risk originates from cross contamination during food prep. It’s crucial for both your business and customers to be mindful of what tools are being used in the kitchen. It is already a best business practice to use different colored cutting boards to separate preparation of dairy, fish, red meats, chicken, ready-to-eat foods (such as baked goods), and fruits and vegetables. Using color-coded tools and allergen-specific equipment can be helpful for deciphering allergen foods as well.
Properly Label the Menu
If some of your dishes include highly common allergens, like dairy, eggs, and nuts, create a clearly labeled key on the menu to alert your guests. It is also crucial to put somewhere on the menu where it can easily be seen to please alert the server if anyone at the table suffers from a food allergy. This opens the conversation with your customers.
Train Your Staff on how to Handle Food Allergies
It’s important for every employee to know how serious food allergies can be and how to handle them properly. While only a few states require training by law, it is something every restaurant owner should invest in. If employees are asked a food allergen question they cannot answer, they should never guess. Instead, they should know to reach out to a manager who can assist with your customer’s question.
Make Your Ingredient Lists Available to Customers
Your guests know their food allergies better than you, so it’s important to use their knowledge to prevent a negative situation from occurring. Providing them with an ingredient list will help them pinpoint the ingredients or sub-ingredients that are red flags for them.
Substitute Widely Used Allergens
If possible, try to avoid the issue altogether by removing common allergens from your restaurant. For example, ditch the regular soy and invest in wheat-free soy. It is also important to have common substitutions in your kitchen for those who have food allergies. If someone is lactose intolerant, try offering him or her an alternative to cow’s milk. Not only will your guests stay protected from an allergic reaction, but they will also be more likely to return again because they know they can dine safely at your restaurant.
Prepare for an Emergency
No matter how much you have done to prevent an allergic reaction, sometimes accidents do happen. If that’s the case, it’s important to stay calm and never argue with the customer to try and defend the restaurant. Keep the guest sitting down and designate a staff member, typically a manager, to handle the situation properly. Have a plan for handling an emergency that is in a highly visible area for your staff and make sure they have practiced these emergency procedures. It’s important that emergency phone numbers are listed near every phone, along with the restaurant’s address.