As a food vendor, caterer, private chef, food truck owner, or any other type of food professional, you probably get a lot of questions every day. “How much is this?” “Do you have condiments?” “Can I get this without onions?” “Where are the bathrooms?” These are just a few of the questions you have probably been asked at some time while you are selling your food.
It is important to answer each question to the best of your ability. Each of your customers is important and should be treated as such. Even if a question seems stupid or maybe doesn’t even apply to you or your establishment, these questions are important to your customer – which means they should be important to you as well.
There is one question, however, that is extremely important that you be able to answer every single time. This question may come in different forms, but it is probably the most important question you will hear as a food professional because getting the answer wrong can lead to serious harm to your customer. Most of the time the question is usually preceded by a comment that you also need to pay special attention to.
The customer will usually say something like this: “I am allergic to peanuts. Do you serve your food with peanuts?”
Food Allergy Research and Education estimates that over 15 million Americans have some sort of a food allergy, and every 3 minutes a food allergy will send someone to the emergency room. Those are some scary statistics, but they are very relevant to your profession.
Here’s another statistic that can help you: Eight foods account for 90% of food allergies. These foods are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish. This is important information because if you cook with or serve these foods, you need to know how to protect your customers.
The following are some tips to help you do your best to prevent one of your customers from having an allergic reaction:
- Include a small notice somewhere that your food establishment serves food that may cause an allergic reaction. It is impossible for you to know if the person paying for your food has food allergies, and while it is mainly the responsibility of the customer to let you know about any food allergies they have, it is still a good idea to have a notice posted just in case.
- Do not serve food to children that don’t seem to have a parent or guardian nearby. Food Allergy Research and Education estimates that 1 in 13 children have a food allergy. Unfortunately, sometimes children don’t know what this means and don’t know that they need to take precautions. So, if you, for example, have food samples that potentially have ingredients that cause an allergic reaction sitting out and a child sees it and takes a bite, they (and you) could potentially be in a lot of trouble.
- Take major precautions if a customer still wants to eat your food. Sometimes even small contact with a particular food can cause an allergic reaction. Say you serve a food item and the customer can choose what goes on it. One of the options is peanuts, which the customer is allergic to. They ask you to serve the food, just without the peanuts. In this case you need to do everything you can to avoid ANY contact with peanuts. Change your gloves, get a new spoon, and do everything else you can to make sure the customer won’t get any sort of peanut residue on their food.
- Get to know your customers with food allergies. Once a customer tells you about their food allergy, it is important that you remember them. In fact, do your best to remember them enough that if and when they return they don’t even have to remind you about their food allergy because you already know.
Doing these things can ensure that you have done as much as possible to ensure your customers are safe when they eat your food. Above all, make sure that you can answer any question a customer might ask about allergies and your food establishment or service.
An as always, make sure you’re covered with food liability insurance.
BY ASHLEY BAKER
Ashley Baker writes about marketing, business, and insurance for small business owners and entrepreneurs.
Ashley is a former Licensed Massage Therapist. She has a background in writing for state political offices, newspapers and was the web editor for two regional magazine publications. When she’s not writing, she’s spending time with her family, attending college football games or kayaking. Find Ashley on LinkedIn, Instagram, or Twitter.