Monday, February 10, 2014

Dining with a Food Allergy Or Intolerance And Its Consequences

Dining with a Food Allergy Or Intolerance And Its Consequences 

Several years ago, we had a patron dining in my restaurant who suffers from severe food allergies. She wisely presented me with a card that listed all the ingredients and food types that she is allergic to. Not only could that move save her life, it makes it easier for any chef to ensure her safety, too.

Unfortunately, I have encountered several people through the years who for some reason have abdicated responsibility for their allergies or food intolerances. I was impressed by this diner’s commitment to her own well-being and her consideration and respect for my kitchen.

Perhaps if people who suffer with food allergies and in tolerances carried cards detailing the ingredients and food types they react to, it would encourage a firmer understanding and eliminate anxiety on both sides of the kitchen door.

Many dining patrons have food allergies or intolerances. Among the most common allergy causing foods that we encounter in restaurants are gluten, nuts, dairy products, eggs, shellfish, soy, sesame and monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Don’t confuse food allergies with food intolerance. An allergy occurs when a person’s immune system produces an antibody response to the food, causing symptoms ranging from skin rashes, to trouble breathing. Some food allergies can lead to severe reactions called anaphylaxis, which causes a dangerous drop in blood pressure and the swelling of the throat or tongue. If left untreated it can even result in death.

A person with food intolerance is unable to digest and process food correctly, often due to the lack of particular enzymes. This can lead to discomfort and unpleasant side effects, but they are not life threatening.
It’s easy to say, “If you are allergic to gluten, don’t eat it. Or, if you are allergic to dairy don’t drink it.” But it is not that simple. There are many products, from baked goods to fresh meat products that might contain added dry milk solids or slivers of wheat.  Even trace amounts of wheat from cross-contamination can make someone severely ill.

Many of us in the food business encounter customers with food allergies or in tolerances on a frequent basis. We are concerned, empathetic and, given the right conditions, quite willing to take on the responsibility of preparing their food.

It has been a long-held opinion of mine that if you suffer from a food allergy or intolerance, you are naive to put your confidence in any restaurant until you are certain beyond doubt that the staff understands your food allergy or intolerance and its consequences. 
It has also been my opinion that the person suffering from a severe food allergy should always speak directly to the person cooking the meal. If the cook is too busy to address this issue personally, you probably shouldn't be eating in that particular establishment.

It has been estimated that there are thousands of additives used in the preparation of commercial foods. This issue is further complicated by the fact that there is so little transparency and clarity in the way many products are labelled. With this in mind, how can anyone be truly certain what they are eating, no matter what assurances are given?

If all this sounds confusing, you can get an idea the kind of minefield the food allergic or intolerant diner is walking through. 

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