Managing Food Allergies and Intolerances in the Hospitality Sector
Managing Food Allergies and Intolerances in the Hospitality Sector
A food allergy is the response of the body to a food or protein the body perceives as injurious and therefore produces antibodies (Eigenmann, 2009). Highly popular are allergies towards nuts, eggs or seafood. The symptoms can vary from swelling of the throat or mouth, skin reactions, noxious feeling, breathing difficulties or even collapse (Busky, 2012). Intolerance on the other hand is the reaction when the body is not able to deal or digest a kind of food because the body misses or cannot produce certain enzymes.
Most commonly known are lactose and gluten intolerances which are coeliac disorders. Triggering a malabsorption of several nutritional ingredients the sufferer has to deal with indigestion, mild abdominal (stomach) pain, bloating, occasional changes in bowel habit, such as episodes of mild diarrhoea or constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss or even vomiting (National Health Services). All these symptoms give high restrictions during daily life and require careful attention. Further the term of anaphylaxis appears quite often in the context of food allergy.
Anaphylaxis describes an extreme form of imunsystem reaction to a chemical contact with of a substance of the sufferer within the environment. It impinges on the whole body and can in worst cases lead to an anaphylactic shock which often causes death (National Health Services). The British Allergy Foundation stated that in 2012 up to 21 million people in the UK are affected by food allergies and that almost 10 million of them are suffering from more than one allergy. They further estimated that by the year 2015 almost 50 per cent of the Europeans will suffer from an allergy.
These facts are already allowing an insight into the importance of the topic in the hospitality industry and its uprising as a contemporary issue of increasing significance. In the following section some general information and research and three food allergy organizations will be presented more in detail. The topic will be presented with a detailed view on the approach in restaurants. The key findings will be evaluated and summarized in the conclusion. Discussion General Information Allergens in food are not always labelled and indicated on product or menu items.
Further as per the findings of Pratten and Towers (2003) there is high education and training for hospitality workers in terms of food hygiene and preparation but with no deeper focus on handling food allergies. Eating out therefore becomes a difficult challenge especially for families. Especially, after reviewing a study of Cathy A. Enz on behalf of the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly in 2004. Her findings show that for restaurant managers and owners the level of concerns regarding food allergies lays only with 3,3 % (out of 100%) and is ranked on the sixed position out of eight criteria (see appendix, exhibit 1).
As per Allergykids. com four in ten UK school children have an allergic condition. Hence the parents have to control and watch after their children much more to ensure their well-being. The founder and CEO of Allergyeats. com, Paul Antico states “First and foremost, I’m a dad of kids who have food allergies. I understand the concerns of parents and know what it’s like to be constantly on guard. ” Adding to this statement, seven out of ten sufferers say their allergy has an adverse effect on their lives (Allergykids. com, 2012). This is clearly showing the impact on the hospitality and the need for adaption in the service offer.
Within the issue of Food Allergies there have been several approaches to ease and make the topic more valid and accessible on the consumer as well as on the service providers ‘point of view. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act One step was the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of the second of August of 2004 which came into effect on the first of August 2006. It obliges manufacturers to label and indicate common allergens like nuts or milk on their product on a clear and comprehensible way (Food and Drug Administration, 2004).
Whereas it is questionable if the consumer can be assured by this with correct labeling. The Food and Drug Administration is randomly inspecting different food packaging for the allergen label but it is shady if some products might just slip through and give wrong indications for the consumer. Nevertheless nowadays there is a wide range of products (for example in a supermarket with an average of 50,000 products (Google Answeres)) and most of them are food items. Therefore the control of all packaging becomes a heavy challenge.
However the first step is the mplementation of such a law. Regarding the fact that the Act is in effect since 2006 it can be estimated that products have been relabeled over the years and especially new products introduced the allergen label by entering the market. The Gluten Free and Allergy Free Passport The Gluten Free and Allergy Free Passport organization are “Educating the World about Food & Travel since 2005” (GFPassport, 2012). The below graph is showing their approach to necessary communication between restaurant and allergy sufferer: Fig. 1 Gluten & Allergy Free Passport, 2012
On both sides, on the guest perspective and the restaurant perspective there should be previous education. The Guest, in this case the allergy sufferer needs to assess his comfort level by for example talking to the wait staff. After identifying the eating options the guest conducts the pre planning and starts the interaction with the restaurant. Communication the guest? s needs and specifications are crucial and the first step in the interaction. Ordering the meal and receiving it, the guest should provide feedback about his experience.
At the same time not only the guest has to be cautious, the wait staff and the cooks have to understand the guest needs and facilitate the specification ordered by fully ensuring safety for the guest. After the meal is delivered the staff should follow-up not only for the well-being of the guest but also to apply critical feedback. The Chef? s Card To ease this communication between the customer and the restaurant some organisation like the Allergy Free Table LLC company introduced a useful tool. The company is trying to educate and provide information in that area.
But not only the provision of important information about allergies and intolerances, facts and figures, problems and risks is their aim but they also giving solutions to make daily life for allergy sufferers easier. One of their approaches is the Chef? s card. It is similar to a business card indicating the allergy of the consumer, the degree of the allergy and the actions to be taken in case of an allergic reaction. Example of Layout of Chef? s Card: Fig. 2: Allergy Chef? s Card (Allergy Free Table, LLC, 2012) The Allergy Free Table LLC. Co provides sample cards and individual adjusted templates which are provided for free download and print out on their website.
This approach is widely spread and having a look through the World Wide Web a lot of positive comments regarding this idea can be found. On the forum for Food Allergy Support, members are commenting “We go out eat a lot and we use the Chef? s Card […]”, “[…] the cards are useful […]” or “[…] I’m all for chef cards! […]”. Further there can be services found other online services as SelectWisely. com which is providing Chef? Card with the focus on people travelling and therefore translating them in the respective language. From the customer and the restaurants perspective the Chef? s Card is an effective approach to this serious issue.
The customer receives the feeling to be taken more serious with the special demand. Further for example the wait staff have something to hold in the hands, which can be handed over to the kitchen staff and results in more security as the level of miscommunications is narrowed. Particularly while travelling the Chef? Card is relieving the customer from feeling stressed eating out as well the restaurant obtains a clear guideline to handle the guest conveniently and most important safely. To sum up the approach of the Chef? s Card is an innovative approach which eases the concern of food allergy issues in restaurant for both parties. The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network Despite many online communities (e. g. the Allergy Free Table LLC. Co) are providing information the most popular one might be the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.
The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) are calling themselves the “most trusted source of information” and can record over 22,000 memberships in the year 2012 (FAAN, 2012). The network is funded by the annual membership fees, donations and charity events like the yearly FAAN Walk for Food Allergy. They are committed to increase the awareness of the impact and implications of Food Allergies, the provision of education for young and old, advocate further research into the topic.
The FAAN offers programs like the [email protected] program which is a package including nformation material as well as implementation and management strategies for schools (FAAN, 2012). Moreover they understood that “Eating away from home can pose a significant risk to people affected by food allergy. Research suggests that close to half of fatal food allergy reactions are triggered by food served by a restaurant or other food service establishment” (FAAN, 2012). So they are approaching restaurateurs directly and are calling up on more training for hospitality staff: “Education, cooperation, and teamwork are the keys to safely serving a guest who has food allergies.
All food service staff – including restaurant managers, servers, and kitchen staff – must become familiar with the issues surrounding food allergies and the proper way to answer guests’ questions. Further, they must know what to do if an allergic reaction occurs. ” The network emphasises on cooperation between the restaurants and customers to ease the barriers and to diminish the risks for allergy sufferers while eating out. The handbook for training of hospitality staff is only one of the collections of information which is provided for free on the FAAN? s homepage.
Reviewing the amount of information which is available especially online restaurateurs should no longer hesitate to implement the handling of food allergies as an inherent part of their standards and policies. Much information is available for free and some managerial strategies and ,of course training sessions, will cost some money. Nevertheless this undertaking is not too difficult as food safety and hygiene procedures are already applied in gastronomic enterprises. As shown above the need for an extension to allergy concerns from the customers? side is omnipresent.
Although that the adaption of this issue will cost time and money in return target markets and customer acquisition will be promoted. The Trend of Labelling Menu Items Food labelling is only mandatory for products coming from the manufacturer, so those which are e. g. bought in supermarkets and grocery shops. This labelling format has been improved by the Codex Alimentarius by the Commission of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization in 2003 also adapted by the European Parliament and one year later in the USA. It regulated that foods triggering ensitive reactions have to be labelled.
Current discussions about having restaurants to label their menu items are on-going but “[…] the restaurant industry argued that mandatory labeling would be a significant burden on most restaurants, the majority of which are small businesses that do not have the technical ability and/or knowledge to provide and publish such data” (Pizam, 2011). Restaurants mostly object menu labeling. Small businesses only produce in small amounts and menu items change frequently which would imply additional financial expenditures on the menu design.
Further restaurants are arguing that the demand for labeled menus is not high enough. Attempts with calorie and fat indications mostly failed in past years. The demand for low calorie and low fat items in comparison to the conventional products was not high enough (Din, Zahari, Otham, Abas, 2012). It is questionable if this failure of menu indications is significant in the debate about labeling menus for allergy sufferers (Pizam, 2011). The quoted arguments are comprehensible but the extreme defensive attitude should be dropped.
The request for menu labeling must not be a generalized demand but a compromise could be formed. Restaurants could have some additional menus indicating a detailed description of the menu ingredients. Other than that the restaurant might be able to guarantee that the cook on shift knows all its products and ingredients. This could be done by narrowing the amount of suppliers, brands and by maintaining the supplier for basic products. Maintaining loyal to a supplier as a plus would reduce purchase costs as restaurants receive better prices with long-term contracts.
Conclusion Concluding from the findings the issue of food allergies in restaurants will be of increasing concern in the following years. Therefore there is every indication to find common approaches and standards to build up a convenient interrelation between customers and restaurants. The customer, most of all, needs to develop the trust to the restaurateur of being served in a serious and safe manner. The presented concept of the Chef? s Card is a recommendable and effective way to ease the communication for the special requirements of an allergy sufferer.
Further the restaurant can handle the conveyed responsibility with more secureness and assurance. As the research has shown labelling the menu to needs of allergy sufferers is still in heavy discussion. Nevertheless a common standard should be introduced in order for the restaurant to clearly follow any special requests. To conclude in the future an overall standard is required in restaurants. Procedures should be extended and the implementation of allergy handling should be a standard for all gastronomy venues.
The load of information is immense and the accessibility is there. Hence restaurants have little excuse too not implement some new strategies in their procedures. Although staff turnover is very high in the hospitality sector which is complicating the demand for additional training, hygiene and food safety instructions are mandatory for all hospitality staff. So why not extend and cover the issue of food allergies at the same time. Consequently restaurants could be labelled as being trained in allergy concerns and customers can easily choose to eat out.