Every chef is familiar with the feeling of intensity that settles over a kitchen when the serving staff notifies the cooks that one of the diners has a food allergy. The chaotic pace of the kitchen slows down as someone carefully flips through the recipe binder to find a dish that will be safe for the diner to eat. Then, with utmost care, the meal is prepared and served, the tension lifts, and the kitchen returns to its normal pace.
Such a scenario is increasingly common in restaurants around the United States. In fact, recent research estimates that more than 15 million Americans live with food allergies, and this whopping number only seems to be growing.
So, what can restaurants do to ensure customers with special dietary needs are informed about potential allergens in your menu items so they can make safe choices about what to order? Allergen labeling for restaurants is an effective and easy way to prevent diners from having dangerous reactions while allowing the kitchen to keep a steady, uninterrupted workflow.
What Restaurants Should Know: The Eight Major Allergens
Allergic reactions in your restaurant are not only unfortunate for the diner suffering, but they could also be detrimental to your restaurant’s reputation. In some cases, they could even result in legal action against your restaurant and in the worst cases, criminal convictions of staff. While the diner is responsible for communicating their allergy to restaurant staff, those in the restaurant industry know all too well that communication can fail. That’s why it is important to also have this information in written form on the menu.
Before we dive into how to use allergen labeling on your menu, it’s important that you are familiar with some specifics about food allergies. While people can be allergic to all sorts of foods, there are eight major food allergens that are by far the most common. These include:
- Shellfish (clams, oysters, shrimp, etc.)
- Tree nuts (almonds, cashews, etc.)
It is critical that the kitchen staff is aware of these eight major allergens, not only so they can take the necessary precautions to prevent cross-contamination of these items during food preparation, but so they can ensure there are menu items that are or can easily be made allergen-free for diners who require it.
Also, be sure the serving staff knows about the eight major allergens so they can help diners with allergies make safe choices about their food. Of course, having the restaurant menu labeled with allergen information is definitely the best way to prevent any adverse reactions.
Allergen Labeling for Restaurants
Using an online nutrition analysis software is the best way to get accurate allergen information about your restaurant’s recipes. It certainly beats flipping through your recipe binder every time someone with an allergy comes in! Plus, there is a chance you could overlook an allergen when skimming each recipe.
Software like MenuCalc, thankfully, can help you be sure which recipes contain certain allergens and which do not. Such software not only evaluates recipes for nutrition information and calorie counts, but it also has an ingredient report tool that flags all of the eight major food allergens in any recipe.
Once you’ve entered your recipe using the extensive USDA-compiled ingredient database, adjusted the serving size, looked at your qualifying nutrient content claims, and checked your nutrient summary, then you can look at your ingredient summary, which is where any allergens in your recipe are flagged. You can then use this information to create an allergen statement for your menu. Using a key and a set of icons for each of the major allergens is a great idea, or you could simply use an asterisk and write which allergens the item contains next to the description.
What’s also great about MenuCalc is that once you’re finished evaluating all your recipes, it provides you with a chart that shows which of the eight allergens each item contains. This table is incredibly useful for diners because it is so comprehensive. Diners can simply look to the column containing their allergen(s) to know which menu items to avoid. This way, it will be easy to provide detailed allergen information should diners request it.
Using a software like MenuCalc and taking the steps outlined above will greatly reduce or even eliminate the chances of allergic reactions in your restaurant. Showing diners a printed allergen report generated from a reputable FDA-compliant nutritional analysis software is one of the best ways to gain the confidence of your diners and ensure they choose menu items they can safely enjoy—all while giving you peace of mind.