May is Allergen Awareness Month. Use this time to increase your knowledge about food allergies and finesse your restaurant’s allergen communication program.
The number of reported food allergies in the U.S. has more than doubled
; it’s estimated that 32 million people have them.
Top food allergies in the U.S. are milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and sesame
. Encouraging service staff to ask guests about food allergies when they’re taking orders builds trust and guest loyalty. Betsy Craig, president and founder of MenuTrinfo, LLC. says, “Every restaurant should have an allergen policy.”
Step 1: Partner with Suppliers
Operators can work closely with their suppliers to understand the supplier’s allergen identification and documentation process. Suppliers should maintain and communicate detailed allergen documentation and have allergen control practices in their quality assurance and food safety programs. For every product procured, operators can require notification of ingredient changes that involve allergens, as well as notification of recall due to undisclosed allergens.
Step 2: Identify and Document Allergens
Allergens in a menu item are based on the supplier’s allergen information, recipes, cooking procedures, and allergen cross-contact
potential. Many operators will use a database such ESHA Research
and/or use a qualified allergen identification consultant to determine and document a menu’s allergens and allergen cross-contact. Craig advises to “pay attention to allergens at the start of the recipe ideation process. You might want to avoid certain allergens from the beginning of recipe development.”
Step 3: Build a Communication Platform
Many operators communicate allergens on the company website in various forms. California Pizza Kitchen uses an interactive
allergen platform, McDonald’s lists allergens with its ingredient statements
, and Olive Garden uses an online PDF
. The method of communication should be easy to update as allergens change. Allergen communication can also provide details of the company’s allergen identification process to help guests make informed decisions.
Step 4: Train Employees
Allergic reactions range from mild to severe and all allergies should be treated with the same seriousness. Therefore, develop allergen training that reaches every restaurant employee who comes in contact with the customer, foods, and beverages. The National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe Allergens
program is a key resource for restaurants and provides in-depth allergen training and tools.
Step 5: Communicate Allergens to Guests
Highly visible and effective allergen communication includes all forms of communication across the kitchen, bar, and staff. This communication happens in-restaurant, online, through social media, email, and through delivery apps. Operators should be prepared to explore all paths of allergen communication.
Step 6: Repeat
In today’s supply chain, one thing to expect is the unexpected. When supplies change, operators should look for and ask about allergen changes. Regularly communicate with suppliers, update allergens information, and communicate allergens and allergen changes across all communication channels to ensure guest safety.