The most common food allergens are tree nuts, peanuts, cow’s milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. However, there are many other allergens that are not as common as the “big eight” listed here. So for the sake of space and time, let’s consider these eight initially and what you can do to lessen the risk of having the allergens show up in the food of the one who has sensitivity.
Food allergies can cause a range of symptoms from a simple rash to life- threatening anaphylaxis (where the airways become blocked, making it very difficult to breathe) which requires immediate medical attention to prevent death. Did you know that out of the 25% of people who think they have a food allergy, only about 2% actually do? An actual allergy causes the body’s immune system to react to a protein in the food consumed , touch it or breathe it because the body thinks it is dangerous, and begins to fight that particular protein. This is any protein: food, animal dander or a pollen protein. What is really occurring for those whose body’s immune system isn’t responding to the protein is called a food intolerance. Food intolerance may often have the same symptoms, but often milder, but the reaction is not triggered by the body’s immune system.
So when you place a catering order, the caterer should know where those allergens are hidden in the items you have ordered. . If an individual is placing a catering order, whether for a passenger or a flight crew member, I recommend each individual have a specific food allergy profile , It is all about checks and balances. . Let’s look at some food allergy information and simple procedures to follow to avoid those allergens and to eliminate the potential risk for your passengers and crews.
Be Aware and communicate!
This is essential!
Be aware of the passengers or crew member’s profile when a food allergy is indicated. It needs to be taken seriously.We could be talking life and death. It is imperative that the communication chain not be broken.
Below is a list of precautions that should be considered to protect that person from contact with food allergens when you place their catering order.
Fried foods should be considered high risk because the fryer in any food establishment is used for frying many types of foods. Rarely does an establishment have a fryer for each food group, much less each allergen. It is common practice to use the same fryer for everything from french fries, to chicken fingers, to fried shrimp. These potential allergen proteins are not destroyed by high heat, they remain in the fryer oil and cause cross contamination.
On a side note, cross contamination is when one item, even as small as a crumb, oil residue, a person’s hand, or piece of clothing comes in contact with another item. The result is that the germ, bacteria or allergen is passed from one item to another. You are cross contaminating every time the pilot’s hand touches the aircraft throttle then the yoke;or a passenger touches the seat belt and then a window shade. The flight attendant will cross contaminate when plating a meal and the food touches a fingernail. Cross contamination is everywhere in our day-to-day lives. It can become a critical issue for the allergic passenger or crew member. For example, if a breakfast pastry with nuts is placed on a serving tray and then removed because the server notices the comment “nut allergy,” cross contamination has already occurred. The end result could be a life-threatening reaction. It is paramount that the preparer and server of the food be trained.
Sauces… ahh, the luscious flavors and silky texture that stimulate your taste buds and make the meal even more memorable. What else can I say, if you have severe allergies, skip them! The only exception for this menu item is if you have spoken with the chef and he informs you of each ingredient and they have no allergen or ingredient such as butter, thickeners, or protein flavor bases such as beef, chicken, lobster, crab, etc., included in the preparation that your allergic passenger might have a reaction to. By the way, many places do in fact use a concentrated flavor base (often containing wheat or soy) to enhance the taste of your meal. Due in part to the effects of altitude on your taste buds, the dryness of the air, the cabin pressure and, oh yes, the noise in the cabin, will all affect your sense of taste. The food source will use these bases to bring the flavor up a notch. But this information is best saved for a later article, because there is a science behind aviation catering.
Avoid casseroles with a cover on them. By cover, I mean a pastry topping as in a pot pie or potatoes as in a Shepherd’s Pie. The reason is that you can’t make a visual inspection – see inside – until that first bite hits the mouth, and by then it could be too late. Now you say, you will just lift the cover a bit and take a peek. That action opens the door to another problem – cross contamination, that ugly food safety guideline that you don’t want to hear about again.
Another high risk item for those with allergy-restricted passengers and crew would be combination foods, such as stews and chili. Foods that contain multiple items that could be difficult to see upon inspection fit into this group. Since these are great items to reheat at altitude because of their moisture content, only order this from your food source if you are certain that the owner or executive chef will oversee the preparation process. There are many steps when an allergen can slip in to the food when cutting, cooking and packaging the item, and don’t overlook hidden flavoring or seasoning mixes.
Finally, how about that delicious Tiramisu? Desserts are comprised of all of those delicious little goodies that fall into the big eight list of the most common allergies – eggs, cream, nuts, wheat. To be extra safe, this segment of the meal should be replaced with fresh fruit and berries. Extracts used for flavoring the desserts, such as almond or hazelnut, can’t be seen in the product, but they are hidden in the ingredients, and a reaction is likely.
Read and Understand the Labels To Protect Your Allergic Passengers and Crews
Fortunately for the consumer, most governments are requiring manufacturers to list all ingredients on the label (or rather most all) and many require that the big eight allergens to be identified separately. There is also a recent movement in the food industry to keep an allergen recipe book. We have adopted this program as part of our Catering Safety Management System so that anyone in the kitchen can refer to a recipe and see its ingredients broken down to the smallest component. Say, for, example you decide to order grilled chicken. We can refer to our recipe book. The first column on our recipe card is the chicken, the second line is each of the seasoning and cooking ingredients, the third is a list of all of the ingredients until you reach the end at the raw, unprocessed item. The very last column on the recipe card highlights any of the big eight allergens found in that recipe. This is an easy way for the staff to instantly locate a specific item being questioned. My point here is read the label and understand what you are reading.
Reading the label of a common ingredient like barbecue sauce might surprise you. There are several brands in the US that contain pecans (reacts with a tree nut allergy), and also anchovies (a fish allergy). Worcestershire sauce may also contain anchovies or sardines, both of which could cause an allergic reaction if you have a fish allergy. Sweet and sour sauce may contain soy and wheat; egg substitutes most generally contain egg whites in the mix so, in my opinion, they can’t really be called an egg substitute. Marshmallows are white, right? No color? Wrong! Some contain blue dye to make the white whiter.
Be Aware of Cross Reactions
If the precautions concerning food allergies aren’t enough to concern you to be on the lookout for every little thing, you must also think about the allergens (the big eight) cross reacting with other foods and your environment.
It is possible to be allergic to certain foods which may cause a cross reaction to other foods. For example, an allergy to peanuts may have a cross allergy to soybeans, green beans, and peas; an allergy to cow’s milk may have a cross allergy to goat’s milk.
Not only is it possible to have a cross reaction from food to food, but from pollen to food. An allergy to grasses may cause a reaction to kiwis and tomatoes, or an allergy to birch pollen might cause a reaction to apples, carrots, celery, hazelnuts, peaches, pears, and raw potatoes.
Grass pollen has the molecular echo of melons, tomatoes and oranges which could cause a reaction. Ragweed pairs off with bananas, cucumber and cantaloupe. Since it’s a domino effect, it may seem an impossible task to protect that allergic person from everything that could ultimately cause a reaction.
It is imperative that those providing food for a person with food allergies take it seriously. Do your due diligence to protect them from the foods they come in contact with during your mission. Something so complicated is simple to prevent if basic precautions are included in your Catering Safety Management System. There is no cure for a food allergy, only strict avoidance. It is paramount to address allergy issues to maintain a safe environment for those who are so afflicted.