Monday, September 16, 2013

Front of the house food allergens training is key to serving guests safely

By Wendy Waren, VP of Communications, Louisiana Restaurant Association
Since last week’s National Food Safety Month article, I’ve dined out with my co-worker with a gluten allergy. Her food allergy awareness is always top of mind at a restaurant and since I dine with her, it is for me as well. 
In preparation for our lunch meeting, I called ahead to let them know that a member of our party had a gluten allergy. In a perfect world, that call would have triggered a series of events that would have led to a really enjoyable dining experience. 
She notified the server who took our drink order that she had a gluten allergy. Another server came to take our order. When the questions about gluten-free options started flying, the second server didn’t have the knowledge and rushed off to the kitchen for answers. At this time, the first server returned and gave a rundown of what was gluten-free. 
“Try the chicken. It’s fantastic and gluten free,” the first server urged.
When the entrees were presented, my co-worker noticed that the garnish was flash fried and her entrée had to be removed. Again, there was confusion from a different server who questioned whether or not the entrée would be able to be eaten if just the garnish was removed. 
In Week 3 of National Food Safety Month, we’re exploring cross-contact and the front of the house operations. After taking the new ServSafe Allergens online course, I have a whole new appreciation for the front of the house staff’s role in serving guests safely with food allergies.  
Remember, cross-contact occurs when one food comes in contact with another food, and their proteins mix. It can also occur when the same equipment and utensils are used to prepare or serve food, such as scooping pine nuts, then raisins with the same spoon. 
Cross-contact can happen easily in the front of the house, especially if surfaces aren’t cleaned carefully. There are several things that you can do to keep your customers who have food allergies safe: 
  • Even if a table was cleaned after the last guest seating, there may still be allergens on the surfaces. Start by removing utensils and other items from the table and then clean and sanitize it. Use a disposal paper towel, not the same cloth used previously. 
  • Salt and pepper shakers, other condiments and sugar and sweetener packages can also be a source of cross-contact. They should be cleaned or removed from the table entirely. 
  • Laminated menus should be cleaned on a regular basis. Guests with food allergies may also request to have them cleaned and sanitized upon arrival. 
  • Work stations should be cleaned just as carefully as other areas to prevent cross-contact.
Following our meal, the chef made his rounds and visited our table. I walked back to the kitchen with him to let him know what we had experienced. He shared that there had been no communication with the kitchen about my co-workers food allergy and apologized profusely.

We took all the proper steps to ensure that the meal served was in fact gluten free, but the front of the house staff’s lack of communication with the kitchen resulted in a dining experience fraught with near misses and apologies.

ServSafe Allergens online training course is just $22 and the knowledge I gained was invaluable. The benefit for restaurant staff—both front and back of the house—saves time, wasted meals and possible negative publicity for any establishment.

Visit to learn more.

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