What To Ask When Dining Out With Food Allergies
One eye-opening session that left an indelible impression — Behind The Scenes Tips for Safe Dining — was presented by Joel J. Schaefer, Founder of Your Allergy Chefs and former Special Dietary Manager at Walt Disney World. He also worked as Manager of Culinary Product Development and Standards for Princess Cruises. He is the author of ‘Serving People with Food Allergies: Kitchen Management and Menu Creation’, has developed recipes for ‘Allergic Living Magazine’, and has written numerous articles relating to food allergies for industry publications.
So, do you think you have the food allergy situation covered when you dine out with food allergies? Think again.
Schaefer taught Allergy Force to think BIGGER when when venturing out to restaurants with food allergies.
What is the flow of food? Where does the food served come from? How is it delivered to the restaurant? Where and how is it stored on-site once delivered? How is it prepped? Cooked? Served? Exactly how has your meal been handled from A-to-Z before it ends up on your plate for dinner?
Sourcing, Shipping and Receiving
Where do you source your food ingredients? Who do you buy from?
How are ingredients shipped to your restaurant? Do your vendors keep food allergens separated during deliveries?
Who from your restaurant receives and checks the shipment?
Do you inspect shipments for spillage and breakage?
Are the packaged foods you receive clearly labeled with allergens?
Storage: Dry Storage, Refrigerator, Freezer
Where and how do you store nuts in your kitchen? (Preferably in sealed containers on lower shelves below other foods.)
How do you manage flour in your kitchen?
Where are milk and eggs stored in the refrigerator? How do you safeguard against spillage and breakage?
How do you manage fish and shellfish in your kitchen?
Food Prep: Washing, Peeling, Chopping, Slicing, Dicing, Weighing, Portioning, Marinating
How do you manage your food prep?
Are you able to prepare my food with different utensils? Different chopping boards?
Can my food be prepared in a separate area away from foods containing my allergens?
Cooking: Grilling, Pan Frying, Deep Frying, Sautéing, Baking, Roasting, Steaming
How exactly will you prepare the dish I’d like to order? What cooking method will you use?
Can you use fresh tongs, fresh pans when preparing my food?
Can you put up a fresh pot of water to prepare my pasta? My vegetables?
Do you have a separate fryer to prepare French Fries? How do you filter the oil from the fryers you use?
Do you cook seafood on the same grill you will use to cook my hamburger/steak/chicken?
Do you have a separate oven for baked goods versus roasting meats, poultry or seafood?
Holding and Serving Food: Plating Process, Coolers, Hot Wells, Service Windows
Who will cook my food? Who will serve my food?
Where will my food be held before it’s brought to our table? Can it be held in an area away from other meals that may contain my allergens?
The time to ask these questions is not when you are seated at the restaurant – when it’s hopping with the lunch or dinner hour rush. During the rush, most servers will have neither the time nor the patience to deal with detailed food allergy questions. They are snowed under too many tables and too many orders with too little time.
Be sure to call in advance and have a detailed discussion with the manager and/or chef before you head to the restaurant. And if you can’t get satisfactory answers to your questions, if you don’t walk away from the conversation convinced the restaurant 100%+ understands your food allergies and can handle them, then find another restaurant.
You want your restaurant excursion to be memorable— memorable because it was fun for the family; not because you ended up in the ER with an anaphylactic emergency.
The Allergy Force Changemaker Series shines a light on movers and shakers in the food allergy community who drive change and bring positivity to the space for the benefit of the entire community.
Photo Credit: Thank you to Louis Hansel on Unsplash for use of the post image