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Friday, February 16, 2007

Catering To The Allergic

On the heels of the Cadbury labeling recall and Peter Pan peanut butter's salmonella recall, I was understandably concerned over who was ensuring quality and safety of our food.

Then I read this article.

Seems that 17% of catered food provided to (known) peanut-allergic government officers in Northern Ireland contained peanut protein. Furthermore, over half of the samples that tested positive for peanut protein had incorrect allergy warnings. On top of this, 10% of the serving staff showed no knowledge of peanut allergy at all. I guess the silver lining is that 90% of caterers had at least a basic or passing interest.

It is tougher to manage our daughter's anaphylaxis to peanut and egg when you realize that catering (and buffets) may be a source of hidden allergens and cross contamination.

Clearly the caterers above require education as to the risks associated with food allergies and what they should be doing to help manage those risks. When 17% of the people who declared a peanut allergy are getting peanut protein in their food, that's a problem. It is reasonable for a politician who is having food prepared on a very frequent basis by a single caterer to expect an allergy-free meal when declaring the allergy well in advance.

There should perhaps be a component to the health certification for restaurants and caterers that considers their management of the most serious allergies. That doesn't mean the whole menu is without wheat, egg, peanut, tree nut, shellfish, soy, sesame seeds and wine (sulphites), it just means that the restaurant is able to offer allergy-free meals when given advance notice and time to prepare. It would also consider whether restaurant used financially-feasible precautions such as the restaurateur I referenced in a post earlier this month (his name is Chris Woodyard of Australia).

The good news is that there seems to be a changing of the guard. While I am still concerned that the mislabeled Cadbury eggs made it through safety checks, I was impressed that they went public quickly once they found out. That is progress irrespective of whether the corporate giant did this altruistically or out of fear of reprisal.

I also think that over the next few years many more restaurants will publish their menus online just like Damon's Grill. I am going to start calling into some local restaurants in an attempt to spread this idea.

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