Food Allergies on the Rise: Operators Respond

Betsy Craig, CEO, MenuTrinfo

Over the last few years, the dining landscape for restaurateurs, food service operators and even grocers has substantially changed. The Centers for Disease Control reported that the number of U.S. children who have food allergies rose by 50 percent from 1997 to 2011. According to a 2012 Mayo Clinic Study, celiac disease is also on the rise – more common than previously thought – and many away-from-home diners are choosing to eat gluten free, illustrated by the portion of households reporting purchases of gluten-free food products, which hit 11 percent last year, rising from 5 percent in 2010.

As a result, every restaurant operator and food service professional is on notice. Not only are tastes changing due to dietary restrictions, menu design now has life or death consequences.

But serving special-needs diners doesn’t need to be dire. At MenuTrinfo, we have found restaurants and food service professionals can flip the fear through comprehensive allergy training. And it doesn’t have to be hard. We developed a train-the-trainer series, called AllerTrain Master Trainer, which covers food safety literally from the loading dock to the tabletop.

The key, we believe, is training a full range of staff including managers, chefs, line cooks and servers about the importance of topics such as cross contamination, food preparation and the policies needed to protect both diners and food service operators. We teach processes and procedures on such topics as food allergens, intolerances and celiac disease, policies, laws and regulations, prevention of cross contamination, and safe food handling and storage practices. Through the series, attendees can take back the information, customize the allergy training to fit their operational environment, and, subsequently, train down the line – managers, chefs, line cooks and servers – in order to create a safer and more educated workplace. By expanding the knowledge level of the full staff, they can work together to deliver safe products to allergic diners. The BOH knows what to do to prepare safe products and FOH fully understands what is and isn’t safe for diners with special concerns.

A great example comes from Bill Moore, director of safety and security at Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, which covers restaurants, colleges and universities, hospitals and senior care centers, corporate headquarters, and a professional sports arena. He has worked for the company for 34 years and attended our first Master Trainer course in January with two colleagues.

Bill started to research and work on a company-wide food allergy program for Eat’n Park Hospitality Group in 2005 after he saw an increase in diners with special dietary needs. Additionally, Bill’s wife is allergic to certain foods so finding restaurants and foodservice establishments that are safe to dine has been part of his family’s routine.

Bill modeled his company’s allergy program after what he found while visiting Disney, and through a partnership with San Jamar, established the use of separate color coded cutting boards, tongs and spatulas to ensure there is no cross contamination in the meals for guests who have a food sensitivity.  Bill says their allergy program is the number one compliment he receives on the company’s customer service line. He now plans to conduct AllerTrain classes for Eat’n Park employees – including managers, cooks and servers.

* MenuTrinfo’s next Master Trainer course is April 8,9, 2014 in Fort Collins, Colo. Click here for more information.