By Paul Antico:
I read an interesting blog entry posted some months ago by Verona Raymond for Ezine Articles, entitled “Restaurants and Food Allergies – A Problem?” Verona, who is allergic to dairy products, relates the difficulties she has in determining which restaurant dishes contain milk products. With little or no information on the menu, she almost always has to ask her servers, who then usually have to consult the kitchen.
“They usually come back to the table and explain that the chef doesn’t know what is in some of the sauces or ingredients because they are sent to them pre-packaged or bottled,” Verona writes. “So I sometimes take a chance and order an entree thinking that it is okay.”
Verona’s solution is for restaurant menus to be treated like consumer products.
“I really appreciate the fact that it is now mandatory that the allergen ingredients are listed on most all types of products in the grocery stores! Especially when the label plainly states that the product contains milk, instead of having to read through the long list of ingredients that often list milk as ‘whey’ or ‘casein.’”
A lot of thoughts came to my mind when I read that article. Here are a few. I’d like to hear yours as well (just click on the Comment link at the end of this entry).
• Thankfully, I find fewer and fewer restaurants have servers or chefs who are not knowledgeable about food allergies, even if this means they know that they don’t know!
• Verona writes that when the chefs don’t know what is in some of the sauces or ingredients, “I sometimes take a chance.” Wow. I doubt this needs saying, but I would strongly advocate NEVER taking this chance.
• Similarly, Verona writes that if allergen ingredients were listed next to each item, “How extremely nice it would be to not have to bother the food server.” Again, I would caution that a food allergic diner would still need to inform their server in order to avoid cross-contamination, whether in the kitchen (shared utensils, oils, etc.) or on the tray.
But let’s get to the heart of the article. Verona believes that restaurants should have to list the major allergens included in their menu items just as consumer products now do. As I’ve added specific restaurant information to AllergyEats, I’ve been able to include this information for the few restaurants that list it publicly, but certainly just a small minority. In my opinion (biased due to my own children’s food allergies), I agree with Verona. How difficult would it be? However, I’m sure some restaurateurs would disagree, possibly referencing the fact that their menu items frequently change, they can’t always audit changes their suppliers make, they sometimes have to make subtle substitutions of items on the fly, and they’re afraid that listing these items will make them more liable if a patron does suffer an allergic reaction. I’m not justifying these answers or even sure if they’re the correct ones; I’m trying to guess what the restaurateurs would say based on what I’ve heard in the past.
Any restaurateurs out there reading this? Any servers? I’d love to hear your opinion. It would be very informative and valuable to the food allergy community to understand the issues that you would face. Of course, I’d also like to hear the opinions of those of you with food allergies or intolerances as well. Please click on “Comments” at the end of this post to share your thoughts.
Finally, I hope you all will consider using the main AllergyEats site (www.allergyeats.com) to not only find those restaurants that list allergen ingredients, gluten-free menus, etc., but also to rate restaurants based on your own experiences. If you’ve found yourself in situations such as Verona’s, it would be very valuable for the rest of us to know that. Just as helpful would be hearing about your positive experiences.
The more people that use AllergyEats and rate restaurants, the better this tool will be for our entire food allergy and intolerance community!
From our home to yours, Tina Turbin.