What a privilege it was to present at the FARECon Featuring Teen Summit earlier this month in Washington, D.C. We had an incredible time talking with parents and teens living with food allergies.
During the adult session, “Behind the Scenes, Tips for Safe Dining,” I asked participants to share their biggest frustrations about dining out and any questions they had. We got some great responses which may resonate with you.
Here’s our best advice in answering your questions and frustrations in the following Q&A with Chef Joel, former Manager of Product Development and Special Diets at Walt Disney World…
Q: Saying I have food allergies doesn’t sound strong enough for exactly what will happen if I eat food I’m allergic to. What else can be said to get my point of severity across to the servers and chefs who don’t even understand the term “anaphylaxis?”
A: An excellent question! To make your point crystal clear, you need to say that you could die if you eat even a trace particle of the allergen.
Q: Can you explain filtration again? Also, are there really any designated fryers in restaurants?
A: Filtration is the act of filtering cooking oil to remove food particles, so the oil lasts longer. The problem with filtration is that the protein molecules that are in the oil are not removed during the process, thus the allergen proteins remain in the oil. Cooking and the high temperatures of the fryer do not destroy the proteins.
Yes, some restaurants can have a designated fryer. However, they have to filter the oil from the designated fryer separately and put it back into the designated fryer without commingling with the common fryer oil. A mistake is made when an establishment has 2 fryers that share the same oil. They may designate one side for frying foods that are allergen free, but cross contact occurs because of the shared oil.
Q: A restaurant lists gluten free items with a red “GF” symbol and the asterisk on the menu says, “gluten friendly.” What does that mean?
A: Gluten friendly can mean 2 things. (1) A dish that is naturally gluten free, such as chicken or rice. (2) No gluten was added to the dish. By saying gluten friendly, the establishment is not guaranteeing the item is gluten free and free from cross contact. In a nutshell, the establishment is not taking any liability for cross contact, which happens when an allergen is accidentally transferred from one food to another.
Q: How do you deal with objections of restaurant owners in setting up allergy safe processes?
A: No deal. Don’t eat there. Appreciate their honesty. It’s better to know that they are unwilling to help than to half-ass try to accommodate you and make a mistake.
Q: Why can Disney manage food allergies so well and other food service operations cannot?
A: The culture of Disney is to make magic for every guest. It’s a huge commitment that they have made. It’s about training, processes, menus, and ingredients. They start with training, which is ongoing. They follow processes, modify menus, and source special products to make serving people with food allergies easy.
Q: What national chains have the best food allergy procedures?
A: The leading guide to allergy friendly restaurants nationwide is AllergyEats. Check out their website to find the restaurants in your area that are ready and willing to accommodate your allergies…and find those that aren’t.
Q: When we buy food at a grocery store, we don’t buy foods that say, “made on shared equipment.” When we call a restaurant and they say “we don’t serve anything with peanuts, how likely is that true and do you think they are looking for or are even aware of cross contact in products?
A: It is likely the restaurant doesn’t serve anything containing peanuts. However, there is always the possibility of cross contact. It is very likely they don’t understand cross contact. After advising the chef or manager of your allergy, you need to make sure you are able to see all ingredient labels to ensure the ingredients they use are not made on shared equipment.
It may be hard to see all of the ingredient labels. Many items are received in boxes where the ingredient label is on the outside of the box which gets broken down and recycled. But, if the establishment is committed to serving people with food allergies, this label would have been removed from the outer box and put in a recipe ingredient binder or other such practice. It’s also important to know if the binder is updated when there are ingredient changes from the manufacturer.
- When different people at the restaurant give different answers for the same questions.
- When the restaurant staff think an allergy means gluten free.
- When restaurant staff are not being trained on food allergies.
- Apathy from restaurant staff about food allergies, i.e. eyes rolling, lack of action, not letting kitchen staff know of my allergy.
- Servers not knowing what ingredients are in their restaurant’s food.
- When our family eats out, the waitstaff respond to our allergy ingredient questions with “that should be fine” or “I don’t think those ingredients are in that.”
- Restaurant staff not taking our food allergy requests seriously, i.e. taking a burger off the bun that my son is allergic to and giving the same burger back to him.
Chef Joel’s Advice
These 7 frustrations are all too familiar. They are all signs of restaurants not committed to serving guests with food allergies.
Only eat at restaurants that are 100% committed!
Most important, don’t be afraid to ask questions. After all, no question is a bad question for those living with food allergies.
Check out our post, 7 Questions To Ask That Could Save Your Life When Dining Out for additional tips.
Stay tuned for more of the questions from the FARECon Featuring Teen Summit in the upcoming section of the website, “Ask Chef Joel.”