“I know from experience what it feels
like to be told you are not welcome in a res-
taurant,” says Tsai, who has a child with food
allergies. “When my son was about 5 years
old, I spoke to a manager about his allergies.
His response was, ‘We’d rather not serve
you.’ That really got me fired up. I decided
to become a spokesperson for FAAN and
partner with the Massachusetts legislature
to raise awareness. No parent should ever
have to disappoint a hungry child because a
restaurant disregards food allergies.”
Getting the law passed in Massachusetts
was not an overnight success—it took four
years. “Our hope is that other states will see
the Massachusetts model and replicate it,”
Weiss says. “While no other states have yet
passed a food allergy bill, it’s encouraging to
see that more and more state legislatures are
learning about this issue.”
providing a safe
“It’s not rocket science,” Tsai says. “All
chefs are familiar with the basics of food
safety and sanitation procedures necessary
to prevent cross-contamination. The same
principles apply when you are dealing with
The first step is training your staff.
They need to know the eight major aller-
gens—dairy, eggs, fish, peanuts, shellfish,
soy, tree nuts and wheat—and what to do
when a diner says he or she or someone
in the dinner party has an allergy. “Once
the awareness and knowledge are in place,
implementing new protocols should be
straightforward,” Tsai says.
Next, if you haven’t been keeping track
of allergens in your food, then the expense
will primarily be that of time. You need to
review your entire menu and identify which
dishes contain one or more of the top eight
allergens. Make sure to check all processed
ingredients used in the restaurant, too.
Blue Ginger keeps track of the allergens
through its Food Allergy Reference Book and
use of allergy sheets. Instead of using a conventional recipe format, ingredients are grouped
by components on individual allergy sheets:
protein, vegetable, starch, sauce 1, sauce 2,
garnish, etc. The major allergens in each dish
also are highlighted in a box at the top of
each allergy sheet for easy reference.
“The reason we do this is because a lot of
the time, a single component of a dish may
be omitted or substituted to accommodate a
food-allergic guest,” Tsai says. “For example,
making a dish suitable for a seafood or shell-
fish allergy may be as simple as leaving off
the fried garnish. The fryer is a common
source of cross-contamination, and that needs
to be noted on the allergy sheets.”
Asian Box in Palo Alto, Calif., uses
different chopping stations for high-allergy
items such as peanuts and cilantro, as well
as making separate toppings in composta-
ble ramekins to avoid contamination. The
kitchen also has an extra hand-washing
station for immediate use after handling
“Our POS [point of sale] system has pop-ups that train the staff to mention potential
cross-contamination on packaged products
we use, and put high-risk items as ‘sauce
on side’ in ramekins to avoid the potential
touching when putting on garnishes,” says
Grace Nguyen, executive chef.
“Restaurants and companies that take
the initiative and opportunity to become
educated about food allergies and serving
safe food will certainly get recognized by
the community, especially the food allergy
community, which is tightknit,” says Joel
Schaefer, CCC, CHT, president of Allergy
Chefs, Inc., Jacksonville, Fla., which spe-
cializes in food-allergy and special-diets
training and product development.
Schaefer wrote Serving People with Food
Allergies: Kitchen Management and Menu
Creation (CRC Press, 2011), which contains
tools for cooks, managers and chefs that help
At Blue Ginger, Wellesley, Mass.,
communication among the front of
house, kitchen and guest with food
allergies is essential to serving safe food.
The guest reads, “If you have any food
allergies, please make your server aware
when ordering,” at the bottom of menu.
At the table, the guest gives a
complete list of food allergies and
dietary restrictions to the server.
The server asks questions regarding
the severity of the allergy.
The server asks the guest to pick a few
dishes off the menu that are of interest,
specifically discussing proteins (i.e.,
main elements) of the dish he or she
would enjoy. The guest/server interaction
streamlines itself the more knowledge
the server has regarding common
allergens present on the menu.
The server and the chef consult the
Food Allergy Reference Book to confirm
menu recommendations for the guest.
After the chef offers or approves
recommendations, the server returns
to the guest’s table and relays the
menu information. The server and the
guest agree on allergen-free menu
items and/or dish modifications.
The server rings in the order and
highlights all tickets. At Blue Ginger,
there are two tickets—one at the
expediter station and one at the mid-wok
station. The server must highlight both
tickets to alert the chef and line cooks.
The chef or the expediter approves
and initials all highlighted tickets.
The chef or the server brings the
approved dish to the guest, reiterates
the guest’s allergies and confirms that
the dish is free of said allergens.
Courtesy of Ming Tsai. Visit www.ming.com for an
example of a master allergy sheet used in the
Food Allergy Reference Book.