As food allergies become more prevalent in society, restaurants in particular are needing to take notice. That is the mission of Allergy Eats, an online guide to the best places to eat in the USA, for those who suffer from food allergies.
On October 21, 2014 Allergy Eats hosted its third annual Conference for Restaurants and Food Service Professionals, aimed at teaching attendees “How to Maximize Safety and Increase Customer Engagement, Loyalty, and Revenue.”
Christopher Hickey, the Regional Director of the New York State Restaurant Association, summed it up nicely as he opened the conference, “Dining out is about the experience even more than the food… restaurants should be able to provide a quick and easy alternative to customers who have a food allergy.”
Hickey, was just one of many A+ speakers at the event, which covered a gambit of topics each addressing how restaurants are, or should be, considering food allergies in their operations.
Speakers ranged from medical experts, to restaurant operators, to parents who consider their families food allergies every time they want to eat out.
Our very own Dr. Julie Kuriakose participated on a panel and discussed how restaurants can introduce food allergy protocols and become more accommodating, improve safety and minimize risk. Check out this video to see Dr. Kuriakose presentation at the Conference.
Many restaurateurs and foodservice professionals were in attendance, not only to learn but also to teach. Robin Hamm, the Director of Food Safety, Quality and Commercialization at Red Robin, schooled the audience on what that full service restaurant chain has done to cater to food allergy patients across all of their national locations. In addition to completely eliminating peanuts from their kitchen, Red Robin has created an interactive customizable allergy menu that allows customers to input what they are allergic to and have the menu suggest options.
Also in attendance was Chef Matt Abdoo, Chef de Cuisine at Del Posto, one of New York City’s most delicious Michelin star restaurants. The staff at Del Posto puts customer satisfaction above all else, and Chef Matt talked about how one of the city’s most prestigious restaurants caters to its diners every needs. When a customer has a dietary restriction, especially a food allergy, it is their protocol to have a manager deliver the plate of food, and acknowledge the guests special request. They also pride themselves on their immaculately clean kitchen, and they have an internal method to identify which plates are for those with the allergy request. Additionally, they have a killer gluten free pasta, that people with gluten intolerances and those who do not, enjoy and order on the regular.
Other highlights included a tear jerking speech from Lisa Giuriceo, the Support Group Leader of the Food Allergy and Asthma Support Group of North Jersey. Lisa’s daughter has suffered from severe food allergies since birth. Lisa and her family are the quintessential beneficiaries of Allergy Eats, and their family is the perfect example of how a family with food allergies can become loyal customers to restaurants who cater to a food allergic patrons’ needs. When her daughter was young, Lisa realized that Disney World is very food allergy friendly, and their family has been taking annual family trips there for 10+ years. She also is a loyal customer of Legal Sea Foods, who does a great job of catering to allergy sensitive patrons.
Allergy Eats Founder and CEO, Paul Antico, is also the parent of children with Allergies. It was his struggle to find restaurants that could cater to his children specific needs that eventually lead him to create Allergy Eats. Paul is wicked smart with a background in finance and business analysis, an he helped point out the economics benefits behind being an allergy friendly restaurant. Families with food allergies tend to become incredibly loyal customers once they feel comfortable eating at a restaurant. Thus if a restaurant does this right, there is a lot of upside.
This was an amazing conference and it was excellent to meet other who are contributing to the mitigation of food allergy reactions in a restaurant setting. At the end of the day, food is at the center of all cultures, and dinning out is a privilege that everyone should enjoy, even those with food allergies.
Children and adults alike enjoy the excitement of Halloween, whether it’s dressing up in costumes or chowing down on tasty candy and treats. For those with food allergies, however, Halloween can be a difficult, if not stressful, holiday due to the overwhelming presence of treats with common allergens, such as peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, dairy, and other allergens.
Even though it may take a little additional preparation, food allergy sufferers can have a safe and happy Halloween with these six tips:
1. Check the ingredients. Before chowing down on Halloween candy or party snacks, check the ingredients. Thoroughly read the ingredient label on every piece of candy before you (or your child) eat it. Also be aware that the allergy statements on different sizes of candy bars may be different, even if they are the same brand. You can donate any candy that contains allergens to non-allergic family members or share it at work.
Nuts, one of the “Big 8” allergens, are commonly found in Halloween candy. We previously shared information on Halloween and peanut allergies in this infographic, which helps adults and children learn more about peanut allergies and how to stay safe during Halloween.
2. Make your own fun. Instead of heading to the neighborhood Halloween party, throw your own get-together at your house. This way you can control all the food and provide allergy-friendly snacks.
3. Be prepared. Make sure you have your (or your child’s) medication, such as an EpiPen, on hand wherever you go on Halloween. Be sure that someone else besides yourself knows how to administer the medication and understands what to do in the event of an emergency, like calling 911 if necessary.
4. Think beyond “trick or treat.” Swap the classic trick-or-treating with other Halloween activities, such as visiting haunted houses, watching scary movies, or visiting Halloween-themed exhibits at local museums, zoos, or theme parks. If you do decide to go trick-or-treating…
5. Go trick-or-treating with your child and before heading out, identify what candy your child is allergic to and establish ground rules for how your child should handle any candy they receive. Make a “safe” bag of allergen-free snacks to carry with you so that your child can eat candy as they walk around the neighborhood. Don’t let younger children carry candy they may be allergic to, as they might not understand the risk and eat some. After trick-or-treating, sort through the candy and discard any with allergens, or simply swap your child’s Halloween candy haul for a pre-made bag of safe candy and treats.
6. Look for teal pumpkins. The Food Allergy Research & Education organization wants people to “go teal” this Halloween. FARE’s Teal Pumpkin Project encourages people to display a teal-painted pumpkin at their door if they have non-food treats, such as stickers, bubbles, crayons, or small toys, to pass out to trick-or-treaters.
People that follow these tips and their normal food safety rules this holiday will be able to enjoy all the classic Halloween activities and maybe even start a few new traditions!
If you believe you have food allergies or have questions about resources available to people with allergies, give us a call. Or, if you are looking for an allergist, we’d love to meet you. We can be reached at 212-729-1283 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.