Peanut Allergies in the Kitchen

After years working in different kitchens across the country I’ve seen my fair share of allergy and intolerance food requests and I’m not alone, food allergies are a common issue encountered by many chefs across the food industry. As a business owner and chef, I decided to do my research to fully understand the importance of food allergies and how my actions in the kitchen may affect a person’s life.

My research showed that there are eight foods in particular that are responsible for more than 90% of food allergies including; cow’s milk, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans and pistachios), fish and shellfish. In addition, food has been described as the single most common cause of anaphylaxis in people attending A&E at hospital, despite the increased recognition that food allergies have received from manufactures and the food catering industry.

However, peanut allergies deserve particular attention as they account for the majority of severe food related allergic reactions. It’s been recognised as one of the most serious reactions of immediate hypersensitivity towards foods, that can lead to severe and life-threatening reactions.

Presented typically in early years, the allergy is usually not resolved and stays with a person throughout their life. Peanut allergy sufferers are highly sensitised and any amount of trace quantities can induce an allergic reaction leading to anaphylaxis.

As an experienced chef, I recognise the significance of working in a kitchen where food contamination can occur. It’s a key conversational topic in the food industry and many of us chefs have intense discussions on a regular basis of how food allergies and intolerances should be handled.

Allergies remain at the forefront of my mind whenever I’m dealing with food in my kitchen. I ensure that there is no cross contamination by keeping allergy and intolerance foods in a separate area including; cooking stations, prepping areas, kitchen equipment and utensils. Working in an environment where chefs are responsible for what people eat, we must take responsibility for each dish we serve and understand the impact of allergies and the devastating consequences that not addressing these issues correctly can have on a sufferer.

I believe there needs to be further allergy and intolerance education across kitchens in the UK as some are still, even with the media attention, failing to address allergies appropriately. It makes me nervous to think that someone with such a severe allergy is about to be served the food I have made as the weight falls onto my shoulders if anything were to happen. For that reason, I’m extremely strict in my kitchen when it comes to food contamination, each dish I serve must be right every time, as the risk is far too great.

I spoke recently with a young woman, Eleanor Quinn, who suffers from a severe peanut allergy. Eleanor explained how she carries two epi-pens with her at all times. The auto injector needle contains a synthetic version of adrenaline called epinephrine, however it only keeps the anaphylaxis symptoms at bay for 20 minutes, therefore if a reaction was to happen an ambulance must be called straight away. I’ll reiterate it’s a life-threatening condition.

I asked Eleanor how having a nut allergy affects her, she explained; “Having a nut allergy affects your daily life in a big way as it affects you every time you eat. You constantly have to be aware of what you are putting into your body and be cautious about checking the ingredients in your food because it only takes one bite of something containing nuts to make you seriously ill or even kill you.”

Discussing Eleanor’s allergy made me appreciate the stressful situation suffers experience when they choose to eat out. Speaking frankly, she said, “You are putting your life into the hands of a stranger and hoping that they have the sense to take your allergy seriously and do all they can to make it a safe meal for you.”

I agree, Eleanor couldn’t have been fairer, how would I feel if I left my or a family members life-threatening allergy into the hands of a chef I didn’t know or a kitchen I couldn’t see. Eleanor went on to tell me how she has found it difficult to eat out in the past and has previously been made to sign a contract to take all liability for any food eaten. An unnerving experience, I would think it would be refreshing for any allergy or intolerance sufferer to know that specific allergy processes are followed to ensure that there is no cross-contamination kitchen.

I encourage all chefs, experienced or junior, business owners and restauranteurs to be attentive in their kitchens. The industry must introduce processes on how to deal with allergies to ensure there is no cross-contamination amongst food. One thing I remind chefs when highlighting this topic ‘you wouldn’t use a meat chopping board for vegetables would you?’

Providing a safe place for those who suffer with allergies must be a part of the kitchen setup, there needs to be an area prepared and processes in place prior to an allergy sufferer entering a premise rather than kitchens quickly reacting to cater for an allergy when food is ordered.

My approach to dealing with allergies in the kitchen is meticulous and I want my customers to feel safe and just as welcomed as any other customer. So, I support the movement in catering for all food allergies and intolerances and hope this inspires other business owners and chefs alike to become more vigilant when dealing with allergies.

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