Once upon a time, people who suffered with food allergies did so at home only, never daring to brave the tables of local eateries out of fear that they might accidentally eat something they are allergic to. Until recent years, the knowledge of food allergens was far from the minds of food service professionals. Today, many restaurant owners and staff are taking special steps to ensure food safety for their guests with food allergies.
Food allergies are on the rise, according to the CDC. Approximately 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies, with 5.9 million being found in children under 18 years old. Between 1997 and 2011, the prevalence of food allergies in children rose by 50 percent. As these numbers climb, the food industry is taking steps to stay on top of safe cooking with food allergens present for the sake of customer safety by avoiding cross contact as much as possible.
What is Cross Contact?
Cross contact occurs when a trace amount of a food allergen comes into contact with another food by accident. Even the most minuscule amount of food protein can cause adverse reactions in people with food allergies. This can occur, for example, when a knife that has been used to spread peanut butter is quickly washed or wiped off before it is used to spread jelly, rather than being cleaned thoroughly or (most ideally) being swapped for another utensil. There may be only a little peanut protein left on the knife (or in the ridges of it), but it could be enough to cause a reaction in a peanut-allergic person. All restaurant utensils and equipment should be cleaned thoroughly with hot, soapy water before it comes into contact with an allergen-free food.
The Food Code
The Food Code is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) advice for uniform practices and systems within food service and certain retail establishments. The Food Code is used by agencies to regulate restaurants and other food services. According to the Code, establishments need to have “a person in charge during all hours of operation who is knowledgeable about major food allergens” and that person should “ensure that employees are properly trained in food safety issues, including food allergy awareness.”
Today, many restaurant owners and staff are trained to create allergen-free meals by taking steps to ensure no cross contact takes place.
Safe Preparation Areas and the Color Purple
The most effective way to prevent cross contact when food is being prepared is to use separate areas and utensils during the process. Many kitchens are now adopting this method of creating a separate, safe space to prepare food in order to minimize the risk of putting their food-allergic guests in harm’s way.
Additionally, many restaurants and food services are now implementing the color purple in their kitchens as an added measure of safety. Any tools or cookware that is marked with a purple hue is designated as allergen-free. This color-coding offers a quick and foolproof way to identify which utensils are safe to use in order to avoid cross contact. From purple knives and cutting boards to purple baking pans, kitchen staff are able to more easily identify which items are safe for preparing allergen-free foods.
It is important to note that not all food kitchens implement these safety practices, and it is always best to ask whether the restaurant where you or your child plan to takes any extra precautions to ensure cross contact does not take place.