Allergens: Prevention steps every restaurant should take

Part 2  of 3 Allergens: Prevention

What should a restaurant do to prevent problems?

As with every part of your food safety management system, prevention is the best method. Informing employees of potential problems starts the conversation of prevention. Many jurisdictions require an allergen poster to be posted in an area that employees can readily see. Here is a link for a poster you can download: http://marylandfoodhandler.com/pdf/foodallergposter140206.pdf although this does not replace an Allergen Safety Plan (ASP) it provides valuable information to staff.

Processes and procedures vary from establishment to establishment  and the plan your facility creates could be vastly different from another facility. Please note we are not discussing manufacturing and labeling requirements here. These are recommendations for restaurants that provide on-demand food service.

Have a go-to-person

Having a go-to-person or special menu is an essential part of your ASP. A go-to-person would be someone that has been trained in processes and procedures of the kitchen, familiar with the 8 common food allergens (see previous post), can demonstrate knowledge about allergens, and has time to discuss safe options with the customer. As an alternative many larger restaurant chains have opted to create a menu designed specifically for someone with allergens. However, this takes a lot of resources and may limit chefs from making seasonal changes to the menu. Most small to medium restaurants opt for a go-to-person.

The go-to-person and Chef need to have a good working relationship. When the Chef changes any process or procedures they must notify the go-to-person of these changes so they can discuss whether it affects any menu items. In addition to processes and procedures, the go-to-person must check all ingredient labels and all the sub-ingredients used in a dish. It is easy to identify common allergens on labels. The eight common food allergens must be listed separately under the ingredients with a clear “contains: “ statement.  Not all foods are what your think they are. Did you know there are milk proteins in many hot dogs and soy in most prebreaded items?

Cross contamination is also very important to understand. In food safety we think of cross contamination as the act of pathogens being transferred from one surface to another. However, when creating your ASP you have to look a little deeper. For instance, it is perfectly acceptable to use one deep fryers for all products. There are no food safety concerns. Remember though with allergens it is the protein that causes the negative reaction and proteins can survive in cooking oil temperatures. So, by simply cooking fried shrimp in the same deep fryer that you cook french fries in those fries could cause a reaction in someone allergic to crustacean shellfish, even if they are not cooked at the same time. Does this mean that you can’t cook french fries and shrimp in the same grease? No. It just means that the go-to-person must be aware that this is the procedure. The same result could also occur if using the same egg wash, breading or batter for fish and crustacean shellfish. These are two different allergens.

Cross contamination could also occur during storage. General food safety procedures require that all products should be stored separately and different utensils should be used for each ingredient. This is very important when working with the eight common food allergens. The go-to-person should make observations of the kitchen staff on a regular basis to make sure they are following proper procedures.

When an order is placed by the customer, with the assistance of the go-to-person, the order should be flagged that it is for someone with an allergy and what food they are allergic to. This alerts the kitchen staff that they need to go into allergy mode. Gloves should be removed and hands must be washed. All surfaces that the order will come in contact with must also be cleaned and sanitized before proceeding. This includes equipment as well. It may not be reasonable to clean certain equipment in the middle of a rush, a flat top for example. So this is something also that needs to be addressed with the go-to-person in advance. Okay, so the order is in the kitchen and all surfaces are cleaned and sanitized, however, wouldn’t it add a extra layer of protection to have an allergy kit. In this kit could be a knife, cutting board, utensils, etc…anything necessary to prepare an order. This equipment must be properly cleaned and sanitized in advance and stored in a separate tote allowing kitchen staff to create the order with minimal interruption.

Now that the order is complete it is recommended that the go-to-person carry allergen order to table to avoid any cross contamination with other dishes carried by server. Remember, never use a multi use wiping cloth to clean sides of plates, use a single use towel for each dish. Also, train staff to never thumb plates when serving.

In the next segment we will provide you with a check list to assist you in the creation of your ASP.

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