Archive for the ‘Cross-contamination in Food Allergies’ Category

Obstacles to Dining Out with Food Allergies?

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

When dining out, is our biggest fear cross-contamination, the possibility that some lethal ingredient will end up in our meal when the chef didn’t intend it to be there? Or is it something else? The scary part is that we have no control over kitchen activities in a restaurant once we place our order. We are trusting total strangers to keep us safe while playing a game of buzz. I tell the wait person or the manager, who then tells the chef, who then tells the person delivering the meal.

The probability is in our favor that there will be some ingredients in the restaurant that we typically use to cook at home and don’t think twice about. For example, egg free pasta with tomato sauce is a staple in our diet. In the case where a restaurant carries egg free pasta, we still need to request that it be boiled in a clean pan with fresh water. Otherwise, there’s a chance the chef might cook the pasta in a pot of water that was previously used to boil someone else’s egg noodles. What about the strainer? What did it strain earlier in the day? We all also know that where there is pasta, the cheese is not too far away. Is it hiding in the sauce? Is there a smudge of it blending into the counter? Did the chef’s glove just sprinkle some parmesan onto someone else’s plate? Did someone just use that spoon to stir the Alfredo sauce then simply run it under water?

And we need to consider the sauce that goes on top of the pasta. Does it contain cheese? Is it Pesto? Does the Pesto contain pine nuts? Who else dipped into the pot earlier in the day and did they use a clean utensil? Did someone accidentally sprinkle parmesan or some other cheese too close to the open vessel?

Then, what about the procedures at the manufacturing plant? Was the egg free pasta made on the same line as the egg bows? Is the box labeled accurately? Does the ingredient list have a “contains” statement or a “processed in a facility that also processes” statement? Should the label have either of these statements?

Did the chef remember to read the label? Did he/she double check the recipe for the sauce? Did the wait person or manager accurately communicate the food allergy or food allergies to the chef? Did the chef get enough sleep last night? Did the chef get interrupted during preparation? Is the chef angry about an earlier event? Is the chef preoccupied with something else? What’s the chef’s “give a hoot” factor? Is he/she overworked? Does he/she hate the job? Is he/she clumsy enough to trip and grab a contaminated counter then return to preparing the meal?

No wonder some of us don’t sleep at night! Fortunately, there are an increasing number of restaurants and employees who are taking food allergies seriously, want to serve us safely, have implemented necessary training and procedures, and have safely served many of our peers.

We can do our part and use a chef card, request to talk to a manager or chef before ordering, ask the right questions, and always carry a couple of Epi-pens.

What’s your biggest fear?