A guy walks into a bar and orders a Bloody Mary. The bartender starts setting up the ice into the hurricane glass, grabs the Worcestershire sauce, and the guy being served breaks out in a sweat and says, “Hey bartender, does that Worcestershire sauce have fish in it?”
No, this is not the beginning of a bad joke. The customer has a fish allergy, and it could happen in your restaurant. Is your staff prepared?
While food allergies can be traced back some 100 years, it hasn’t been until recent memory that we have dealt with such a large incident of allergy-prone guests in our bars and restaurants. To this point, the bar area has defaulted to the dining room to protect the guest from allergic reactions from food ingredients. However, this should not be the common practice as the dining room staff may have nothing to do with any specific bar ingredients or their menu offerings.
To date, in the United States there are eight major ingredient categories that are the cause for 90 percent of all food allergic reactions. These “Big 8” are: milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, fish, shellfish, and wheat. It needs to be noted that it is not simply these core items but also all of the derivatives of them. For example, it is not simply milk as the core ingredient but also everything milk can be found in like cream, yogurt, cheese; in addition, all of the compounds and flavorings of milk. It’s not always obvious—according to PeanutAllergy.com, many margarita mixes contain milk derivatives.
In fact, these Big 8 can all be found behind the bar, sometimes in surprising places. There are hundreds of drinks made with milk and egg or egg whites. Wheat is a main ingredient in beer. And garnishes can also harbor allergens—think of that shrimp on your Bloody Mary, for example. Plus, the alcohol itself can contain the allergen like nut-specific liqueurs, such as amaretto or frangelico, but even wines, gin, and vodka can trigger a reaction.
So we have covered the obvious ingredients and beverages where we might find allergens, but it may not be that easy. There is also tremendous risk from cross-contact or cross-contamination between ingredients, tools, equipment, even ice. We know how bacteria grow and survive and that is certainly a concern, but, in this instance, these ingredients are perfectly safe for everyone except the person with the allergy.
Ensuring ingredients are kept separate and minimizing mixing ingredients may actually be the easy part. What gets more and more difficult is shared utensils, knives, cutting boards, holding vessels, even shared straws or stir sticks. Wiping cloths to clean spills can be even more troublesome. For example, if there is milk or cream spilled on the bar and the bartender takes the cleaning cloth and wipes the area, they then go on to wipe down the entire bar. If that area is not also sanitized and dried, there is a high likelihood that milk residue is now down the entire length of the bar. If a guest comes in and places their hands or any exposed skin on that area, it could result in a topical contact reaction.
So what is the bartender to do? Wash the bar, sanitize the bar, and dry the bar. This will ensure that the residue from any allergen has been removed and the area is as safe as it can be.
Want to learn more about earning your BS – Food Industry Compliance Management degree program? Complete the “Request Info” form on this page or call 855-JWU-1881.