As we move from Christmas to New Year, the issues around allergen awareness are especially acute.
I have worked in the catering industry for over 30 years. I have experienced busy kitchens during the festive period and the frantic preparations both in the kitchen and front of house.
I remember the days when we had to cater for one or two vegetarians……out came the nut roast. The Christmas menu offered a choice of turkey and the full trimmings or nut roast for the very small number of vegetarians. Was there any consideration at all to the risk of cross contamination from the nut roast for any guests who had a nut allergy? The menu options today for vegetarians will include a wide range of fresh, tasty vegetables and pulses which may also be suitable for guests with food allergies.
Last weekend we planned to go out for a family meal. My younger brother and my niece were coming to visit and we opted to go out for dinner. My youngest daughter has a number of food allergies so as a responsible parent I telephoned the restaurant in advance, booked the table and spoke to the manager about my daughter’s dietary requirements. He reassured me that the chefs always take particular care when preparing meals for customers with food allergies.
When we arrived at the restaurant, I began to get concerned … the table wasn’t ready. I explained that we had pre-booked a table for 8 people.
‘Oh, don’t worry,’ she said. ‘We will get this ready for you now – we have a spare table!’
When we came to place our order, I had to explain again about my daughter’s allergies and I asked about the sweet potato fries which were on the menu as “Gluten Free Available”. I wanted to make sure they didn’t have a coating on and that they would be cooked in a separate fryer. The manager went away to check with the chef and came back to confirm that yes, they were suitable. Surely, he should have known this information?
As a customer in this situation I felt uneasy as my booking details hadn’t been recorded properly and we didn’t feel confident. The meal was fine and thankfully there were no after effects.
As a caterer during the festive season, the days of offering a nut roast and a menu with limited options have long gone. In today’s world if you provide a nut roast on your menu, you will be required to declare all the allergens (nuts) in bold for that dish and for each dish on the menu.
The chef will also need to prepare the nut roast in a separate area to reduce the risk of cross-contamination, or better still eliminate the risk and take it off the menu entirely.
In order to ensure that all your customers feel confident and relaxed whilst dining in your restaurant you must listen to your customer’s requests during the booking stage. Make notes in the booking diary and communicate to your team. Reassure your guests that you can cater for their dietary requests and talk to them about their allergies.
Food Safety Management and Food Allergen Management must be part of the culture….
“It’s what we do around here”.
This is not something extra, this is part of the daily routine to ensure that our customers with dietary requests feel safe and confident. Pre-planning, communication and excellent Food Allergen Management procedures will ensure that the busy catering festive season will be successful.