Five things to know to protect your customers from food intolerances

Key Points

  • Cross-contamination of food can present dangers to customers with allergies and intolerances and food preparation surfaces are only one risk factor of many
  • Everyday cooking utensils like pizza peels, cutters, tongs and pasta forks can also transmit tiny food particles which can trigger allergies and intolerances
  • A common mistake is to use deep fryers to cook gluten free fried food in the mistaken belief that gluten is destroyed by heat
  • Boiling water and pots used to cook pasta can be contaminated by cooking regular pasta in the same boiling water and pot as gluten free pasta

IN PART ONE of this story we identified some key ways to protect customers against food allergies and intolerances. One of the major areas which is overlooked in this regard is the dangers of cross-contamination of foods as they’re being prepared in the kitchen. This is not simply a case of ensuring food preparation surfaces are kept clean and free of food residue containing allergens or ingredients like gluten which can cause intolerance – that’s just one area where cross-contamination can occur. Here are some others you may not have thought of:

Everyday cooking utensils such as pizza peels and cutters, tongs, spatulas and pasta forks can carry tiny particles of food which can trigger allergies and intolerances. For this reason, when you’re preparing food for customers who need to avoid those foods, it’s important to use either a different set of utensils or to thoroughly wash and clean them in hot soapy water before use. Using a colour-coding system to keep different sets of utensils separate can be helpful – such as different colour coded containers, or storing them in a special colour-coded area.

Pizza trays, baking trays, grills, sandwich makers, toasters and deep fryers can also carry tiny particles. Again, you need to use clean ones each time or clean them thoroughly in hot soapy water prior to use. A common mistake is to use deep fryers to cook gluten free fried food in the belief that gluten is destroyed by heat – it isn’t. You’ll need a separate deep fryer with oil that hasn’t had any gluten-containing batter or ingredients used in it, otherwise tiny residues of gluten will float in the oil and contaminate food.

Boiling water and pots used to cook pasta can be contaminated by cooking regular pasta (which contains gluten) when the same boiling water and pan is re-used to cook gluten free pasta. Instead you need to use new water from the tap and either thoroughly wash and clean the pot in hot soapy water or use a different pot.

Microwave containers and mixing bowls which have previously been used for general purpose meals can’t be re-used for preparing food for someone with an allergy or intolerance without risking cross-contamination.

Even wearing the same plastic gloves when preparing different meals can cross-contaminate food. Remember, only a tiny amount of the allergen or intolerant ingredient needs to be present for it to make some customers really ill or even lead to a life-threatening situation.

So make sure your staff are educated and aware and that they understand the reasons for all these procedures. Use wallcharts, internet print-outs, website advice – and make sure good hygiene practices, like regular hand washing, are followed whenever staff are preparing food.