So you’re a chef and you have a food allergy, now what? Does that mean you leave the kitchen? Does that mean you give up cooking? Does that mean you stop making a living?
No, it means finding a new normal. It means finding a new way to continue on in the industry that you love, providing the food that you love to the people that love you for it.
Yes, your allergy and the allergies of any of your staff will impact day-to-day operations. Here’s how to safely continue working with food.
Your allergy is not a secret you keep to yourself — your life depends on it. Your boss, employees, suppliers, delivery people, service providers, etc., all need to be in the loop. Changes will have to be made in all areas of the business from a menu redesign with product elimination to perhaps changing the protocols for how products and services are delivered to the facility. Once the owner of the operation is willing to work with you, it is time to get to work. (Note: Although you cannot be terminated for having a food allergy, you are at risk every time you are exposed to the ingredient. Talk to your medical professional about the risks involved.)
Check (or Write) the Protocol
Ask the owner: Do we have an Allergy Protocol Policy in place? Is the protocol designed to address accommodating only guests with allergies? Or does the policy address accommodating employees with allergies working at the facility?
Let’s assume that you do have an Allergy Protocol Policy in place that addresses both guests and employee accommodations.
First, let’s look at the driving force of your business: the menu. How do you go about making changes to the menu when the business is already successful with the current document that is in place? The answer to that is as simple and/or complex as your allergy and the reaction you had when discovering the allergy.
Examine the Severity of the Allergy
Which of the “big eight” allergens are you allergic to: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, or wheat? Or are you allergic to an ingredient not found on this list? What is the allergy exposure involved: Is it an ingestion reaction? Is it an inhalation reaction? Is it a topical reaction? What is the extent of the reaction: Is it gastrointestinal? Is it respiratory? Is it anaphylaxis?
Plan the Menu Accordingly
Once these three questions are answered and as long as the reaction is not anaphylaxis, which is potentially life threatening, it is time to look at the menu and determine how many existing menu items contain that ingredient. Remember, the action needed is as simple or complex as the allergy ingredient. For example, if the allergy ingredient is a single type of fish, it is easy to isolate that menu item. However, if the allergy ingredient is milk or eggs or wheat, not only must the ingredient be isolated but also the sub ingredient, colorings and flavorings of the main ingredient. For example, if the allergen is milk, it is not as easy to isolate only milk, but also cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter, sour cream, some salad dressing, any ingredient that may have whey in it, among others, would also have to be noted.
Now the harder questions:
- How often is the item or items ordered?
- Are you the only that can cook them, or is there another employee who can be responsible for cooking menu items that contain this ingredient?
- Can the ingredient be substituted for another without compromising the original menu item?
- Is it worth it to eliminate all menu items with this ingredient? What happens to the image of the operation if that were to happen?
Let’s assume that the ingredient or one of the sub-ingredients cannot be eliminated and there is another trained chef that can step in, it’s now time to look at the rest of the operation. As long as this ingredient is in house, the risk of cross contact is high. Protocols need to be in place from ordering the ingredients all the way to the service of the final menu items.
There needs to be a plan, which should include:
- Writing new recipes and ingredient specifications
- Constructing Ingredient flowcharts that follow the ingredient from delivery to service
- Keeping products in their original containers with the full ingredient panel intact
- Constantly monitoring ingredients as suppliers change
- Totally eliminating the bringing in of food from any unapproved source
- Getting the total commitment from all employees all of the time
As you can see, a key employee or any employee that may have a food allergy will mean a total overhaul of daily operations and standard operating procedures. However, the rewards can be high: a new found respect for guests with food allergies, rewriting your SOPs (standard operating procedures) that may be out of date, a new menu revamp, new ingredients to try, new training for all your staff that gets rid of any old habits, and a new target market.
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.