I began my quest to find gluten free food products and recipes when I was diagnosed with Coeliac disease over sixteen years ago. Since my diagnosis there has been a huge increase in the numbers of people being diagnosed with Coeliac disease or wanting a gluten free diet for other health and lifestyle reasons. More broadly, the numbers of young children diagnosed with food allergies has gone sky high. For example, in the past decade there has been a five-fold increase in serious food reactions amongst pre-schoolers.
I developed my range of gluten free food products after providing baked goods to cafes and restaurants. I wanted to provide good quality and easy to make products that anyone could make at home. I also wanted them to taste great and this has driven me to constantly improve and develop new products. While my products are aimed at the gluten free market, they can be adapted to suit many diets and help those wanting to avoid certain food allergens.
Food allergies – what you need to know
Food allergies in the general community are rising rapidly. Food allergies are abnormal immune reactions to certain foods, are real and can be life-threatening. According to the Anaphylaxis Australia organisation, 1 in 10 children now have food allergy and those with peanut and tree nut allergy, often have it for life. This means the incidence of adults with food allergies is also rising. Go to http://www.allergyfacts.org.au/ for more information.
Although any food can cause an allergic reaction, the most common allergens are: egg; cow’s milk; peanuts; tree nuts (e.g. walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans); fish; shellfish (prawns, lobster, crab, etc); sesame; wheat and soy. These nine foods account for 90% of food allergic reactions in Australia.
Importantly most people who have severe food allergic reactions in Australia have them when eating food prepared by another person. Many reported reactions occur in cafes, restaurants and clubs. In recent years fatalities as a result of food purchased in a restaurant have been reported. Most times the trigger food was an actual ingredient in the food eaten and not a cross contaminant.
Allergy free makes good business sense
With the growing numbers of customers needing and wanting allergy free menu options, it makes good business sense for restaurants, cafes and canteens to cater to this growing market. The huge number of online reviews and resources available means that the businesses that cater for allergy free diets well are quickly known and recommended.
There are nearly 4 billion Australians eating out each year and so there is a real need for chefs, cooks and wait staff to really know their stuff about food allergies. Their customers’ lives could be put at risk by eating hidden ingredients that could trigger a severe allergic reaction.
If you feel understood and adequately cared for as a customer with food allergies, you will become their most loyal customer. Happy customers spread the word quickly.
I know firsthand what it feels like to go to a new restaurant and have nothing available to eat or drink. The other scenario is to get reassurances from the wait staff or chef that a particular menu item does not contain certain allergens and then find out after experiencing an adverse reaction to the food that the wait staff/chef were not fully aware of all the ingredients in a meal, did not understand how serious a food allergy can be and/or had not prepared the food safely.
It is critical that your requests and questions are taken seriously. In some Australian states, restaurant and cafe owners and caterers may be legally required to provide accurate information about any possible allergens in foods they are serving.
What can you do?
I’ve talked about what to do when eating out in previous posts and here again are my top tips:
- Always ask. Each time you ask for gluten free or allergy free food it reinforces the growing demand.
- Research restaurants in the area and check their websites or call to discuss your needs. This will also give you an idea of their level of understanding of gluten and allergy free dietary needs.
- Take the lead when going out in a group and ask the organiser if you can be involved in selecting where to eat. This will make it easier and more enjoyable for everyone on the night.
- Book a table in advance specifying how many gluten or allergy free guests so they can prepare for your arrival.
- Always pack your emergency medication or ‘kit’ in the event of contamination.
- Share your good experiences with friends so they know where to eat OR where to met their gluten or allergy free friends.
- Address contamination issues with the manager or owner only.
There are a range of resources available to the foodservice industry and you may want to share them. Anaphylaxis Australia and the NSW Food Authority have provided a guide for preparing allergy free foods, http://www.allergyfacts.org.au/images/pdf/be%20prepared.pdf. This guide was developed under NSW legislation so it’s worth checking with your own food authorities.
Some key points to remember in managing safe food preparation systems are:
- Develop a process for preparing foods for customers and ensure it is followed.
- Train your staff so they understand their obligation to declare certain allergens and other substances in food if the customer asks.
- Only use ingredients that are clearly and correctly labelled.
- Ask suppliers about their allergen management policy and ask for a Product Information Form (PIF).
- Establish clear procedures for rework.
Consider providing allergen information on your menu to help customers easily determine what foods they should avoid.
The guide is also very helpful if you’re preparing food for friends and family and need to cater for specific dietary needs. My previous blog on preparing food gluten free will also help here.
If you’re stuck for recipe ideas have a look at my other posts and check out my ‘Allergy Free Entertaining App’. The app provides for every allergy free diet including gluten, wheat, dairy, nut, soy and egg free as well as vegetarian, vegan, low sugar and child friendly options. You can download the app from the iTunes app store. It is also available in an Android version. For more information go to www.melindasgfg.com
Happy cooking! Melinda