A year ago, staff at Gregg’s Restaurant in Warwick, a family eatery specializing in desserts, stopped short of serving a chocolate cake to a customer’s grandson, who was allergic to nuts, because of the possibility the nut-free cake might still have been exposed to peanuts in the kitchen.
The customer, a grandmother, was initially unhappy about that decision, restaurant owner Bob Bacon said, but called back the next day to say she was actually relieved to realize that that safer course of action made sense for her severely allergic grandson.
Today, Bacon’s staff at restaurants in Warwick, East Providence, Providence and North Kingstown, already aware of the seriousness of possible allergic reactions to food, are in the process of getting training online to learn about allergen symptoms, trends, dangers, and how best to handle customer requests at the front of the house – and food preparation and handling in the kitchen.
Rhode Island and Massachusetts are the only two states in the country that have legislatively mandated including allergens in food-service training at restaurants, said David Crownover, the Washington, D.C.-based National Restaurant Association’s product manager for the ServSafe Allergen online training program. That does not mean restaurants have to accommodate a customer, it does mean “you just have to understand the issue and how to respond,” he said.
“Sometimes no is the appropriate answer” to a customer, Crownover said. “Not every restaurant can accommodate every allergen. Allergic individuals would rather know ahead of time than later [and suffer] an adverse reaction.”
Rhode Island recognizes different options for allergen training and the online ServSafe program is one of them, he added. Some of the other 48 states have legislation that loosely addresses allergen awareness, he said. But purchase and use of the ServSafe training course remains voluntary.
Developed earlier this year, and made more robust this past July, the training program was created for the restaurant association in partnership with Food Allergy Research and Education, based in McLean, Va., because 15 million Americans cope with food allergies, Crownover said. The need for safer approaches to food handling and customer service, plus the sheer potential to secure that part of the dining market, led the association to offer the program.