I was delighted to read an article in CatererSearch.com supporting one of my pet hobby horses – the massive opportunities, as yet almost untapped, for freefrom food manufacturers in the catering and restaurant sector.
It is true that freefrom/allergen catering does present a lot of problems – far more than manufacturing freefrom food for the retail market.
• Unlike in shops, foods do not remain neatly packaged in contamination-safe boxes, bags, jars or cans so, unless you are very disciplined, keeping allergenic ingredients separate from non-allergenic ones in a busy kitchen can be challenging.
• Menus may change frequently and each new menu will need to be assessed for allergens.
• Over 90% of restaurant staff are foreign so may have difficulty not only in grasping the terminology of allergy and intolerance but, if they come from a country where the conditions are less prevalent than in the UK, may have a problem even grasping the concept.
• Training is often very limited, a situation made worse by the often rapid turnover of staff.
• Whereas in a retail situation, it is mandatory to print all the ingredients on the packaging of any manufactured food stuff, it is totally unrealistic (and actually undesirable) to expect a restaurant to print all the ingredients of every dish on their menus. Even ensuring that they have all the ingredients for each dish listed for an allergic guest to consult not only adds considerably to their administration costs, but places what chefs may regard as unacceptable restriction on what they cook from day to day.
However, none of these problems are insurmountable and, as the numbers of those who are allergic/intolerant, or who prefer to avoid gluten or dairy continues to mount, the opportunities for restaurants and cafés who grasp the nettle and find ways to cater for them safely continue to grow. Never forget that a ‘freefrom’ diner rarely dines alone; with him or her come three or four other people who may not wish to eat freefrom thmselves but will be very happy to eat in a restaurant where their friend can do so.
This is no new soap box of mine. Over five years ago our Allergy Catering Manuals were designed as simple primers for any catering outlets wanting to accommodate allergic guests. Last year we introduced a Food Service category into the FreeFromFood Awards to try to encourage manufacturers and, next month, at the FDIN FreeFrom conference that I am chairing, I will be banging on yet again about the, as yet scarcely tapped, opportunities out there…
Meanwhile, if you want to see how successful pioneering freefrom restaurants have been, read the CatererSearch article!