Monday, September 9, 2013

What you don't know may make your guests ill

By Wendy Waren, VP of Communications, Louisiana Restaurant Association

Just this week, a friend of mine with a gluten allergy shared with me that she prepared a rice mix product for dinner that she thought was safe. Later that night she was so sick she thought she’d have to go to the emergency room. She found the package and while the ingredients list didn’t indicate a problem, a quick Google search revealed that the foreign rice mix may indeed contain wheat.

One of the most important things to do to prevent allergic reactions is to read the labels. The FDA requires that it be clearly identified on the label if a food item includes one or more of the Big 8 Allergens. For restaurants, reading labels is a vital step in the process of serving guests safely.

The labeling is acceptable if the common or usual name of an ingredient appears in the ingredients list. So if the ingredient is “buttermilk,” then it’s clear it contains the major food allergen “milk.” But sometimes it’s not so clear, and then the allergen’s food-source name has to be shown at least once on the food label. There are a couple of ways to do this: First, the label might list the common name of the allergen in parenthesis after its less common name and second, is a list of all allergens contained in the product in a single statement or a “contains” statement.
Allergens may also be hiding in labels under unfamiliar names. For example, milk may also be referred to as casein, lactoferrin or whey and eggs may be referred to as albumin, lysozyme or surimi.
With several friends and colleagues being diagnosed with a gluten allergy or sensitivity, I’ve really gotten a crash course in dining out with these types of challenges. Until I took the new ServSafe Allergens online course, I thought I had a solid handle on things, but I was wrong.
September is National Food Safety Month and this year’s theme is “Avoid a Reaction by Taking Action.” Food allergies go far beyond gluten or peanuts, and 90 percent of all Americans with them are allergic to one or more of what’s referred to as the Big 8, covered here.
National Food Safety Month-Week 2
This reading labels activity contains a list of the Big 8 and the unfamiliar names you may encounter. The activity sheet is really helpful particularly in the receiving area of a restaurant and for use in determining which food items containing allergens need to be separated from non-allergen foods.

A tragic story made national news this summer regarding the severity of peanut allergies in some children. A 13-year-old girl at a camp in California died because she ate a Rice Krispie treat she had no idea contained peanuts. Her last words to her mother were, “Mom, I’m sorry.” With 15 million Americans with food allergies and stories like this, now is the time to educate yourself and your staff.

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