Friday, July 20, 2012

Labeling Allergen Foods in Restaurants

Great article in Wall Street Journal June 2012

When someone orders from the gluten-free menu at the Melting Pot, a chain of 140 fondue restaurants, a complex safety system kicks in behind the scenes.
The server enters a "gluten-free" notice on the electronic order ticket. That alerts the chef to stop, sanitize his work station and change his gloves and apron. He prepares the plate from a separate set of food items, strategically arranged so those containing gluten—a protein found in wheat, rye and barley—can't contaminate those without. The server delivers the order on a separate tray, and the manager comes by to see if the diner has any questions.
"Educate, separate, sanitize—I pound that into our employees," says Maria Miller-Rodriguez, who trains new Melting Pot staffers in the Phoenix area in allergy awareness.
Melinda Beck on Lunch Break looks at how some restaurants go to great lengths to guard against "cross-contamination" for patrons with food. Photo: Brian Harkin for The Wall Street Journal.
A growing number of restaurants are catering to patrons with food sensitivities. An estimated 15 million Americans—including 1 in every 13 children—have at least one food allergy, according to the Food Allergy Initiative. Another three million have celiac disease, an autoimmune reaction to gluten, and millions more avoid gluten for other health reasons. Both food allergies and gluten issues are mysteriously on the rise. Some restaurants estimate that 20% of their tables have a person with a special dietary need.
Chuck E. Cheese
At Chuck E. Cheese's in Minnesota, gluten-free pizzas are delivered to restaurants in a factory-sealed bag. The kitchen staff bakes the pie in the package, and when it arrives at the table, an adult patron opens it. The pizza also comes with a disposable cutter to prevent contamination.
Accommodating such diners requires more than just using different ingredients. For some people with food allergies, even trace amounts can trigger a serious reaction. Thus, the real challenge for restaurants comes in guarding against cross-contamination, which can occur when even tiny particles of an allergen remain on utensils, gloves, prep areas or cooking surfaces.
Since 2006, packaged foods must indicate if they could contain any traces of the "big eight" allergy foods (milk, eggs

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