In Nutritional Information
With the growing incidence of food allergies, restaurants should provide written allergen statements for diners with sensitivities.

With the growing incidence of food allergies, restaurants should provide written allergen statements for diners with sensitivities. Photo credit: Flickr user Dan4th Nicholas.

Making a customer sick is every cook’s worst nightmare—especially when the illness is caused by an allergic reaction to an ingredient that wasn’t supposed to be there. Given that an estimated 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies, restaurants need to take special care to protect their diners from consuming food they are allergic to—both for the sake of their diners’ heath and for their own reputations.

While there are many kitchen processes chefs must address in order to develop an allergy management plan for a restaurant, the most important step is creating an allergy statement for your menu. After all, clearly flagging potential allergens in your menu items is your best bet in making sure everyone can enjoy a tasty meal without any unwanted repercussions.

Why Restaurants Must Take Food Allergies Seriously

Allergic reactions to food are not only detrimental to a restaurant’s reputation and credibility, they have the potential to result in legal action against the restaurant and even criminal convictions of staff. While these types of cases do exist, it’s important to note that both parties—the diner and the restaurant staff—can be held accountable for a reaction. Of course, preventing an allergic reaction in a restaurant setting depends on the cooperation and communication between the diner and the establishment.

The diner has the responsibility to communicate their allergy to the restaurant staff, and the staff has the responsibility to make sure the diner is safe by either refusing service (if they aren’t 100% certain the food will be safe for the diner) or recommending dishes that are free of the allergen in question. Verbal communication, however, can fail, so it is helpful to provide allergen info in written form as well. This way, diners can feel in control of their choices. Written allergy statements are also key in order to better protect your restaurant legally.

How to Write a Restaurant Allergy Statement and Additional Allergen Information

There are a number of ways in which you can provide written allergen information at your restaurant. The first, and most basic, is an allergen statement, which is simply meant to alert diners of the presence of allergens in the kitchen. Typically, these statements identify some or all of the eight allergens identified by law, including wheat/gluten, milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and soy.

For example, if your bakery items contain wheat, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, and milk, your allergen statement may read: “Allergy statement: Menu items may contain or come into contact with WHEAT, EGGS, PEANUTS, TREE NUTS, and MILK. For more information, please speak with a manager.” If you use any of the eight allergens in your kitchen, it is a good idea to include a statement on every menu to alert diners of the potential for allergic reactions.

At MenuCalc, when we perform allergen reviews for our clients, we write disclaimers specific to their establishment and detail the operations in their kitchen. For a restaurant that uses one fryer for all products, an allergen statement might include the following warning: “Please be aware that we use common fryer oil. Due to these circumstances, we are unable to guarantee that any menu item can be completely free of allergens.” It is important that your allergen statement specifically states why diners may be at risk of allergic reaction so they can make an informed decision on how to proceed.  

In addition to your allergen statement, you should also be able to provide diners with an ingredient list for each menu item upon request. This way, if a diner is concerned about a specific dish, they can confirm for themselves whether the dish is or isn’t free of the allergen(s) they are concerned about. If you are using prepared food products from a third party supplier (i.e. chicken fingers or burger patties), be sure to read their allergen statement and ingredient statement to be aware of the ingredients they contain. Also, be mindful that a dish that combines two or more recipes must be analyzed to determine which part of the recipe contains the allergen, so it can be omitted if need be. Note that disclosing ingredient information doesn’t mean you need to share the recipes with diners, so you don’t have to worry about the confidentiality of your proprietary recipes.

There are a variety of other ways to indicate the presence of allergens in your menu items. Some restaurants include icons or symbols next to menu items to indicate which items are gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, etc. Others simply write “contains soy and wheat” in text next to the dish on the menu so diners can determine what dishes they can eat safely. To save reprinting all the menus, you could print a few special menus with detailed ingredient and allergen information or with all the allergen-free dishes on the menu. Then, if a diner comes in with allergies, you can provide them with their own special menu showing their options.

Using Online Nutritional Analysis Software to Identify Allergens

The best way to ensure accurate allergen information for your diners is to use an online nutritional analysis software that provides detailed allergen reports for each of your recipes. As you can imagine, it’s a lot of work to flip through your restaurant’s recipes, write down all the allergens each item qualifies for, and transcribe that into a menu. There is also a high chance that something could be missed, overlooked, or mixed up when using that technique, but with online nutritional analysis, there is no room for human error.

Allergen reports from online nutritional analysis software provide you with a chart of all your recipes and which of the eight allergens they contain. This table is very useful for diners, perhaps more so than the ideas listed above, because it is so comprehensive. All diners have to do is look to the column containing their allergen(s) and see which dishes contain them, and all you have to do is create an account and input your recipes. Once you input your recipes, you receive an allergen report, complete with detailed nutritional analysis of your menu items. This information and your recipes will be safe, confidential, and available to access anytime.

With food allergies becoming increasingly common, responsible restaurants that take the necessary sanitization and workflow measures to prevent cross contamination, provide well-written allergen statements and disclaimers, and offer detailed nutritional information for their diners have an edge. Not only do these steps greatly reduce or eliminate the chances of allergic reactions, they will earn the loyalty of diners with allergies. Being able to show a printed allergen report generated from a reputable FDA-compliant nutritional analysis software of choice is the best way to gain the trust of your diners and ensure they choose menu items that are truly safe for them to consume.

To receive a detailed allergy report and comprehensive nutritional analysis, check out MenuCalc. Our FDA-compliant online nutritional analysis software and expert consultants can help with all your allergen, nutritional analysis, and menu needs. Contact us today to learn more.

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