As someone who has coeliac disease (allergy to gluten), dining out comes with its challenges.
The vast majority of the time, the kitchens get it right and when you read the below list of just how things can go awry for people suffering food allergies, you can appreciate the effort that has gone on in the kitchen:
- Wait staff not communicating the customer's food allergy to cooks and chefs
- Food service staff presuming a menu choice is fine without checking ingredients
- A chef or cook not checking ingredients in a garnish
- Using utensils across multiple food types, including knives, tongs, spoons, etc
- Not checking the ingredients label on pre-prepared products, e.g. mayonnaise, tomato sauce
- Suppliers changing ingredients without informing the kitchen staff
- Mistakes in communications: e.g. delivering special dietary requests to the wrong customer
- Customers not informing kitchen staff about their allergy
- Customers not clarifying whether their request is due to an allergy, an intolerance or that they simply dislike something i.e asking, "Does this have egg in it?"
This list accompanied a press release about a new free, potentially life-saving, online food allergy training program for cooks and chefs, funded by the Australian Government Department of Health, and launched by the National Allergy Strategy, a partnership between the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) and Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia (A&AA).
That's right, potentially a life saver. As a coeliac, if I consume gluten it won't kill me, just upset and damage my gut.
But for those suffering allergies that can cause anaphalaxis, a mistake can be fatal.
People with food allergies usually get to meet the chef or sous chef when they dine out, especially if they are staying at a resort for any length of time.
And a couple of times, overseas and in Australia, I have been led around the buffet while the chef/wait staff point out what is gluten free - but of course, none of it is gluten free because they cannot guarantee cross contamination hasn't happened. That the bloke picking up the bacon from the bain marie may have placed that bacon on his toast - rendering those tongs not gluten free. And where those tongs go next renders that contaminated.
Coeliacs disease is an inconvenience but I have an enormous range of foods that I can safely consume and the range of specific gluten-free foods and products grows daily. Just check out the "health food" aisle of the supermarket. By the way, "gluten free" is not necessarily healthy and there are regular warnings that people who do not need to be on a gluten-free diet shouldn't be.
But now back to the more serious food allergies.
"Food allergy rates are continuing to rise in Australia, and we know that the majority of fatalities from food-induced anaphylaxis occur when people are eating out," says Associate Professor Richard Loh, co-chair of the National Allergy Strategy and past president of ASCIA.
"So that is our area of focus with the All About Allergens online training program. We had great uptake of the first stage of the free All About Allergens program for people in the food service industry, so we've developed this next stage specifically for cooks and chefs to maximise their understanding of food allergies and hopefully reduce the number of food-induced allergic reactions we see."
The first All About Allergens online food allergy training program has seen almost 11,000 food service industry workers from all over Australia enroll in the course since its launch in July 2017. This next stage of the training program provides information specific to cooks and chefs and aims to educate them on the safest way to handle, prepare, cook and store food to prevent food-related allergic reactions.
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