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The 5 allergy requests every chef is receiving

Restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars have been tailoring their menu items to suit a range of food allergies for decades. Food allergies are on the rise in Australia, yet many reported adverse reactions to food occur in food service outlets. While it's up to the individual to report their allergies, food service workers also share some responsibility for ensuring the food they're serving is free from reported allergens.

Facts about food allergies in Australia:

  • 1 in 10 children are born with a food allergy of some kind.
  • Hospital admissions due to allergic reactions have increased by 200-300% in the last 20 years.
  • Most allergic reactions to food occur from meals prepared and cooked by someone else.
  • Most reports of reactions to food occur when the trigger food was an actual ingredient in the dish, as opposed to a cross contaminant.
  • Australians dine out for over 3.8 billion meals each year.

Our list of the five allergy requests every chef is receiving today is designed to give you some ideas and tips on how to manage and adapt meals to suit allergies.

Cow’s Milk:

Man holding a jug of cow's milk

In Australia and New Zealand, around 2% of infants are born with cow's milk allergies.

While 80% of children eventually outgrow their cow's milk allergies, severe allergic reactions in restaurants have caused several deaths in recent years. This has caused the need to take extra care when providing alternatives for your patrons.

One important thing to note is that not all reactions to cow's milk derive from cow's milk protein. Lactose intolerance is caused by the lack of the enzyme lactase in the digestive system, which is the agent that helps digest milk sugar, lactose. Though intolerances to milk can cause severe discomfort, they aren't usually dangerous.

Naturally, the only way to eliminate the risk of an allergic reaction is to remove all traces of milk and dairy in the meals you serve to your customers. There are many alternatives to milk products available today and knowing what they are will take the stress out of improvising during the busy periods.

Pizza cheese:

Dairy allergies can be very challenging to work around, especially when cheese is a core component of many dishes. But, our dairy-free pizza cheese is an excellent alternative for pizzas, pasta dishes and pastries. It stretches, melts and bubbles and has a savoury and rich flavour.

Cakes:

Try our extensive range of pre-baked dairy-free sweets and cakes, like our orange and almond cakes, banana bread or dairy-free magnums for when your customers enquire about dairy alternatives.

Eggs:

Image of a carton of eggs on a wooden board

Egg allergies affect 8% of children aged under 12 months, though 80% of these children will eventually outgrow their egg allergy.

Eggs have historically been used as a binding and leavening agent in many sweet and savoury dishes. They add moisture to cakes and slices and enhance the flavour and texture of many dishes. Swapping eggs for ingredient alternatives is often considered one of the most challenging things to overcome in commercial kitchens, as it’s versatility lends itself to many uses.

Apple sauce:

This sweet sauce is made from cooked apples and is often flavoured with nutmeg and spices. In most cases when you're baking sweet treats such as cakes and biscuits, try swapping out an egg with a quarter of a cup of apple sauce as a binding agent. If you’re using a sweetened variety, decrease the amount of sugar you add to the batter.

Silken tofu:

This condensed soy milk product is most often processed and pressed into solid blocks and consistency varies according to water content. To replace an egg in baked goods, add a quarter of a cup of pureed silken tofu to your mixture. While its flavour is very subtle, it can make baked goods dense, so it works better in brownies and cookies than it does sponges and other cakes.

Tree Nuts:

A collection of different types of tree nuts

In Australia, 1 in 500 (0.2%) children will have an allergy to tree nuts. Tree nut allergies are more common in people who suffer from other diseases and conditions like asthma, atopic dermatitis and other food allergies.

The family of tree nuts include brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts and many more. Those who are allergic to tree nuts are not always allergic to peanuts, so it's still safest to ask your patrons before offering them a peanut alternative. It’s also common for those who are allergic to one tree nut to be allergic to another as they come from the same plant family.

Tree nuts are commonly present in Chinese or Thai dishes, in baked treats, sauces, stuffings and salads. You'll also find that many pre-marinated meat products from our website also contain traces of tree nuts, so it's essential to read the ingredients carefully before serving.

Peanuts:

If the customer is allergic to tree nuts but not peanuts, you can swap out granulated tree nuts in salads with crushed peanuts instead. You’ll achieve the same consistency and buttery flavour as tree nuts but without the risk.

Nut butter:

This creamy spread has been taking the Australian dining scene by storm in recent years as a topper for healthy smoothie bowls or spread across sourdough bread with fresh berries. In cases where you're asked to provide an alternative to tree nut butter spreads, keep a jar of peanut butter or tahini spread in your cupboard to alternate.

Peanuts:

Cashew peanuts in a bowl

Peanut allergies affect around 4-8% of children and 1-2% of adults in Australia.

Similarly, to tree nuts, peanut allergies are widespread and can cause severe adverse reactions or even fatalities. The only treatment for peanut allergies is complete avoidance of the nut altogether.

Seeds:

Also a great alternative to tree nuts, roasted pumpkin (pepita) seeds and sunflower seeds are an excellent replacement for peanuts in muesli slices, as a garnish for salads, in bread and as an emulsified butter or spread.

Beans:

Roasted protein-rich soybeans, peas and chickpeas offer the bite and crunch that comes from peanuts without the risk of reactions. An easy way of achieving the same crunchy texture of peanuts is to roast them whole in the oven until they're golden brown.

Shellfish:

A plate of cooked oysters

Shellfish – or invertebrates – affect about 1% of the Australian population. These allergies tend to be lifelong.

Shellfish allergies are more common in adults than children as they develop with age. They include abalone, crabs, lobster, oysters, prawns, scallops, mussels, octopus, and more. The full list of animals in the shellfish family can be found here. It's important to note that while some may not be allergic to shellfish, they may be allergic to molluscs – snails, squid, clams, and other crustacean variants.

There is a common misconception among restaurant professionals that people with shellfish allergies should not dine out altogether due to the severity and sensitivity of their allergy. However, getting around shellfish allergies may be a lot simpler than it seems.

Fish:

Most pre-tinned fish products such as tuna and sardines will note on the packaging if there may be traces of shellfish. If they don't mention it at all, then avoid these products altogether.

Fish sauce:

A popular flavour enhancer in Asian stir-fries and curries, oyster sauce has a high salt content and a distinct flavour profile that's hard to recreate, though fish sauce does share a similar flavour. Fish sauce is made from dry or raw fish and is fermented to produce its pungent seafood flavour. It does a great job of amplifying the richness of a dish, similarly to oyster sauce but it is more intense, so be aware of this when adding to dishes during cooking.

Note: before using shellfish alternatives, always check the packaging carefully to make sure each product doesn’t contain traces of shellfish.

Managing food allergies on the restaurant floor:

Managing food allergies in your kitchen can be complicated; it requires careful consideration and effective communication between the patron, front-of-house staff and back-of-house staff. But if you don’t do your due diligence in making sure you’re preventing adverse reactions from your food, the consequences can be dangerous.

  1. Follow these simple steps to ensure you do your bit to prevent allergic reactions in your restaurant:
  2. Recognise the most common allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs and shellfish are among the most common in Australia.
  3. Be conscious and confident in what goes into the food you prepare and sell: check food labels for ingredient lists and listed allergens in pre-packaged goods and use only labelled ingredients and products.
  4. Practise effective communication with your guests: if a guest asks if there are allergens in a meal, you need to be honest. If you're serving the customer and you aren't sure of the answer, ask your kitchen staff. However, in the longterm, make ingredient information for the dishes you serve easily accessible for all staff at all times.
  5. Prevent cross-contamination: it's easy for small traces of allergens to make their way on to a customer's plate. Consistently document and let all staff know when a customer has declared a specific allergy and set aside a dedicated area for the preparation of allergen-free meals.
  6. Create an allergy management plan: design a program that outlines how and where cross-contamination may occur during food and beverage prep and determine each step to prevent them from occurring.
  7. In the case where anaphylaxis occurs, call the ambulance immediately.
More tips on managing food allergies in your kitchen can be found here.

There are many online resources created specifically to help you manage food allergy requests and reduce risks in food service outlets, like the Australian organisation Allergy Facts and the Australian Institute of Food Safety.

Finally, it’s crucial to take every allergy request seriously, even if it’s not one of the listed allergens above. The reality is, any food has the potential to cause anaphylaxis or other adverse reactions in people, so all reported allergies need to be handled with caution.

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