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Food industry 'nuts' need to act, not merely be aware
Allergy awareness is good, but actually acting on that awareness would be better

  Richard Amrhine's archive
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Date published: 4/20/2008

By Richard Amrhine

WE TOOK a won- derful spring- break vacation to Arizona that of course included a round-trip plane flight and lots of eating out--not to mention seeing some of America's greatest natural wonders. Such a trip takes a family with a peanut-allergic child outside of its comfort zone of home-cooked foods and known allergy-friendly restaurants.

Peanut-allergy awareness has risen over the past decade along with the number of people affected, but it's unfortunate that so many hurdles remain for these and other food-allergic people. The hurdles are erected by everyone from the server who comes to your restaurant table, to the largest national food-producing conglomerates.

Some restaurant servers are very understanding, for which we are always appreciative. One national chain we know, Chili's (and maybe others we're not aware of), has a menu supplement listing the ingredients in each menu item. That's good PR.

On the other extreme is the occasional server whose reaction to "I have a peanut allergy and need to be sure what I'm ordering will be free of nuts, peanuts, or peanut oil" is a blank stare and a delayed "You what?"

After visiting with a superior of some sort, the server returns to say, "We don't offer any guarantees about anything on the menu."

This information is unresponsive and irrelevant. Would you prefer that we leave? We simply want to know the prevalence of peanuts and nuts in the menu items and if care is or can be taken to prevent cross-contamination, such as avoiding unwashed cooking utensils that were used to prepare any nut-containing dishes.

I submit that this is not too much to ask, assuming that utensils do get washed.

Current statistics show that about 12 million, or 4 percent of Americans, are allergic to one or more foods. Peanut allergy affects 1.3 percent of Americans, which may not seem like a lot. But if four of 100 diners who come to a restaurant have food allergy issues, why not be prepared to deal with it intelligently? They'll be more likely to come back.

On our return flight, the attendant came through with snacks. You could get a bag of peanuts, or you could get a bag of pretzels. On the pretzels there is the warning: "Manufactured on equipment that processes peanuts and tree nuts."

"Do you have an alternative for someone with a peanut allergy?" we asked.

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