Five things to know to protect your customers from food intolerances

Key Points

  • Food allergies and intolerances are both unpleasant to customers but you should be aware of the differences between them
  • Food intolerances won’t threaten customers’ lives but can make them very ill
  • Cross-contamination of food preparations is a key factor in risk minimisation
  • Education of all staff – both front of house and in the kitchen – is very important in alleviating customer concerns as well as preventing the presence of ingredients which may cause intolerance in dishes

WHETHER YOU WORK in a restaurant, café, pub, club or bistro, the last thing you want to do is serve food that makes your customers sick. That’s why education of both back of house and front of house staff about food intolerances and allergies is so important.

The worst-case scenario – that of your customer suffering a life-threatening allergic reaction on your premises – is every restaurateur’s nightmare. In this first part of a two part story, we identify the differences between allergies and intolerances and what you need to know to cater for customers with the latter:

·      Allergies and intolerances have very different meanings, although the symptoms of each condition may be similar. Food intolerance is a general term used to describe an unpleasant reaction to certain foods. Generally it doesn’t involve the immune system – although there are exceptions, such as coeliac disease (an autoimmune disorder) which can only be avoided by a lifelong gluten free diet.

·      A food intolerance won’t threaten your customer’s life, but it can make them very ill. Typical symptoms include bloating, constipation, bad breath and stomach cramps.

·      Protecting against cross-contamination of food preparation surfaces is a key factor in risk minimisation for commercial kitchens.

·      Front of house staff need to know what ingredients are used in each meal so they can respond accurately to customer concerns about the presence of foods which can cause intolerance. This includes not only the dish itself but also garnishes and sauces – which are often overlooked in answering customer queries.

·      Standardising all recipes and making sure they’re always followed is a good way to ensure effective intolerance and allergen management. Otherwise, temp staff who are called in to cover when others are ill might change recipes without others knowing.