What are your allergen response policies? by Barry Parsons

Complete and thorough training of your servers is very important in order to properly satisfy the guests and to provide safe food. Yes, the food must be wonderful from the kitchen, but servers are the face of the restaurant. In retail, the person behind the counter is the face of the business. Whether it is a server or the counter person, it is vitally important that they are fully trained and understand the importance of biological, chemical (allergens), and physical hazards.
Servers must ensure that they do not touch any portion of the utensils, plates, or beverage glasses that will come into contact with the food or the mouth of the guest. Utensils should only be touched by the handles, glasses by the middle or lower portion and for plates, the thumb must not touch the food contact surface. Servers should be taught that the thumb is not needed to hold a plate or should only touch the side of the plate, if held correctly. If you have gone out to eat, you have seen all of these occur incorrectly. There was a local restaurant that had a foodborne illness outbreak. One inspector told me, “You could eat off of the floor the place was so clean”. The result was the chef was unknowingly a carrier and was shedding bacteria. The chef wore gloves when touching RTE foods, but when the chef grabbed the plates, the chef contaminated its surface. When food was placed on the plates, the bacteria transferred to the food and approximately 31 people became ill.
Another problem is the misunderstanding or lack of understanding regarding food allergens. We are only required to list the “Big 8” on labels, but there are approximately 170 food allergens. All Manager Food Safety Certification curriculums reference the “Big 8”. The symptoms can range from an itchy or swollen mouth and lips to hives, itching, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain and when severe, anaphylaxis which can lead to death. Owners and managers must understand the potential severity of an allergic reaction and set up systems to prevent the consumption of the guest’s food or ingredient or the cross-contact with the food allergen.
Once a guest informs the employee of the establishment of their food allergy, it should immediately trigger the establishment's policy and procedures for handling the guest’s order to ensure they will not be exposed to the guest’s known allergen. Do not assume everyone realizes the severity of a reaction to a food allergen or will follow your policy and procedure 100% all of the time. The importance of allergen training cannot be emphasized enough, but the owner and management must be knowledgeable and verify that their staff fully understands and more importantly, acts upon the establishment's policy and procedures to prevent exposure to the guest’s food allergen. Remember, it is not just about the consumption of the physical food like a nut or milk. It is also the cross-contact of the protein residue from the nut or milk that can cause an allergic reaction. You must include in your policy and procedures how to properly clean using hot water and detergent to remove the protein residue. Sanitizing does little to nothing to protein residue removal. Sanitizing is for the reduction of biological hazards to a safe level, not protein residue.
Need help evaluating or developing your allergen response policies and procedures? We can help!
This blog is not intended to be a substitute for the user's judgement and common sense. Any errors are unintentional. 

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