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Archive for the ‘Food Allergies’ Category

Restaurants: Have You Considered Food Allergy Awareness Week as a Business Opportunity?

Food Allergy Awareness Week is May 8-14, 2011. 

Have you considered whether this is an opportunity for your restaurant to reach out to the community of food-allergic consumers?  If not, why not?  Food-allergic consumers are loyal, repeat customers.  Restaurants that accommodate them can grow their business.

Perhaps your staff are not sufficiently trained to handle requests from allergic customers?  The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network and the National Restaurant Association published Welcoming Guests with Food Allergies, a free guide to help restaurants train staff to serve food safely to their food-allergic patrons.

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When You Tell Your Customer Your Product is Gluten-Free, What do You Mean, and Can You Prove It?

Recently, Paul Seelig, the owner of Great Specialty Products, was arrested for allegedly representing that its bread was “gluten free,” even though it allegedly tested positive for gluten.  (Seelig denied the allegations, and he is currently on trial in North Carolina.)  According to his defense counsel, the company was misled by its suppliers.

The purpose of this post is not to discuss the substantive merits of this dispute or pick sides; defendants are innocent until proven guilty.  I will, however, address some risk management issues for companies that are trying to do the right thing, such as identifying simple steps one can take to minimize the risk of litigation, and when necessary, be better prepared to defend itself in a court of law (and the court of public opinion).

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a type of protein found in some grains.  When people with celiac disease eat gluten, they may experience gastric distress and other symptoms.  (The FDA estimates that up to 1% of the population may have celiac disease.)  Some research has shown that gluten consumption may also contribute to other health problems.  Accordingly, many consumers are now seeking “gluten-free” products.

What does “Gluten Free” Mean?

At this time, there is no standard for this term in the U.S.  However, the FDA has proposed setting a threshold of 20 ppm for a product to claim that it is “gluten free.”  The FDA also publishes a list of questions and answers about its proposed gluten-free labeling rule.  That site also identifies several foods that naturally contain no gluten.

How Can My Company Tell Consumers About its Gluten-Free Products?

Good communication is important in any relationship, personal or business.  Talk to your customers about their needs and interests.  Are foods with low gluten levels acceptable, or does their diet have stricter requirements?

If you are buying purportedly gluten-free products from your suppliers, how are they testing and documenting that?  Who performs their testing?  How long do they (and you) keep records? 

Be realistic about what you can do for your customers.  Above all, it goes without saying that one should not exaggerate a product’s gluten-free status or flat-out lie to customers, as at least one chef allegedly did.

Allergy Alert Email Notices: Stay Informed Re: Contaminated Foods!

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network provides a form where you can sign up to receive email notifications about manufacturers recalling foods that may contain undisclosed allergens.  Notices pertain to the top eight food allergens.