Americans love eating out — roughly 60% of the population eat at restaurants at least once a week, Gallup reports. And people with food allergies are no different: they love to sit down and enjoy a special meal with friends or family. For those diners with food allergies, however, it’s often difficult to protect against an allergic reaction. It’s therefore essential for hotel restaurants to regard food allergies as an important health issue. Cross-contamination or minute traces of food can cause reactions in guests with allergies, so servers and chefs need to be very careful. Here’s some precautions you need to take to avoid allergic reactions in your restaurant.

Educate Your Staff

Hold a training session to educate your staff on how to handle guests with allergies. Milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and crustacean shellfish are eight of the most common food allergens in the US — affecting up to 32 million people. Servers should always ask if a table has any food allergies. They should also be clear about ingredients in each dish ordered and know how to deal with substitution requests. It’s crucial servers communicate smoothly with the kitchen: the two areas must work together to ensure the allergen-free dish remains uncontaminated by other food and that it’s given to the correct guest. Moreover, the same server should deliver the allergen-free dish to the table separate from the other orders to avoid cross contamination.

Implement Allergen-Specific Menus

Devising new, allergen-free menus makes dining a simpler experience for patrons with allergies. It’s worth considering printing several menus free from major allergens. So, you could create separate celiac, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, tree nut-free, dairy-free, and shellfish-free menus. Seeing right away there’s a menu catered to their needs will make guests feel confident in your ability to handle allergies, resulting in an enjoyable, stress-free dining experience. It also eliminates the need for servers to waste time checking with the chef about ingredients in certain dishes.

Maintain Air Quality

25% of people with allergies are allergic to mold, so maintaining a mold-free restaurant with clean air is important. In particular, a hot and humid kitchen triggers mold spores to grow and spread through the air, which can trigger allergic reactions, including skin rashes, headaches, and asthma. It’s therefore important to maintain excellent ventilation. Change your HVAC filters regularly (as mold can grow inside the system) and get them professionally inspected annually. It’s also important to clean ventilators and exhaust fans regularly. When they’re dirty and coated with fat the blades get clogged which interrupts the ventilation process. At the same time, steam, smoke, and potentially harmful chemicals from gas stoves (such as, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde) are created from cooking — meaning efficient ventilation is of utmost importance to maintain healthy, clean air.

Ultimately, with adequate training and special allergen-free menus, your restaurant staff will be able to keep guests with allergies safe. Implementing these food allergy protocols also makes it easier for your guests to find a meal that works for them. In turn, you’ll provide guests with a memorable dining experience, gain a solid reputation for handling food allergies well, and win repeat business.

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