More and more restaurants are rolling out allergy free and allergy friendly menus, disclosing ingredient information as well as source, and in general increasing transparency.
More and more restaurants are rolling out allergy free and allergy friendly menus, disclosing ingredient information as well as source, and in general increasing transparency. Consumers want to know where their food is coming from and what it contains, a desire that is spreading from coast to coast. This is especially true for those who have food allergies or are cooking or choosing foods for an allergic family member or friend.
Restaurant servers, cooks, those in charge of supermarket prepared foods, and others in the food service industry are generally briefed on food allergies, intolerances and other limiting conditions, but as dish and ingredient complexity increases, as well as worries of cross contamination (tongs, fryers, knives, cutting boards etc.), all those involved in food handling and preparation need to consider food allergies on par with food safety.
The seafood chain Red Lobster recently began testing a menu that lists major allergens such as dairy, wheat, peanuts, eggs, and of course the different types of seafood in its dishes. Diners at select locations can get a print-out chart that notes the major allergens in its dishes. A handful of restaurants have created similar systems, but where Red Lobster goes above and beyond is highlighting items that are at risk for cross-contamination through frying or grilling - an extremely important facet for those with more serious allergies or conditions.
“After recently disclosing nutritional information for every item on all of our menus, the allergen menu is a natural next step in our commitment to transparency and our belief that guests benefit from access to information about what's on our menu. We are pleased with the feedback…thus far, and plan to continue to expand the number of restaurants where we offer an allergen menu,” commented Red Lobster’s (Darden) spokesperson, Erica Jaeger.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that approximately 12 million Americans have food allergies - that’s about one in 25. But food allergies may affect more than the CDC approximation if family members, partners, and roommates decide to keep their pantries allergen free to prevent accidents. There are eight types of foods that account for 90 percent of food allergies - milk, eggs, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat - which can cause everything from hives and stuffy sinuses to anaphylactic shock.
It is definitely time for supermarkets to step up allergen labeling and cross contamination awareness on prepared foods as well as highlighting allergy free products on the shelves. Another great idea that allergy sufferers will appreciate is creating rotating ‘allergy free’ end caps that include a variety of allergen free products. Supermarkets should also train employees about food allergies and cross contamination and have information handy for both customers and employees.