Catering for Allergy-Sufferers
It’s a simple truth: people love food. So when you organize an event (be it a private party, an office do or a major conference), it is essential that your guests or participants enjoy the food they are served. However, these days the number of allergy-sufferers is constantly increasing and many hosts worry they cannot meet their guests’ needs appropriately. So what are the main things to watch out for when organizing food catering?
Most common allergies
At the time being, 5% of all children and 2% of all adults are affected by an allergy, but sadly, the number is on the rise. The most common allergy is celiac disease - an intolerance towards gluten, which is part of all wheat-products. It is closely followed by lactose intolerance, whose sufferers must not eat cow’s dairy products. In both cases, symptoms can range from bloating to stomach aches, cramps and vomiting.
Less common, but more dangerous, are peanut / tree nut, sesame, seafood / fish, soy and egg allergies. In some cases, the person affected might choke when accidentally consuming a contaminated product. In order to prevent discomfort and keep your guests safe, it is important to be aware and proactive when handling food and organizing catering.
Preparation is everything
All of this makes safe catering sound like a daunting task. But there are a few simple things you can do in advance to make your event as pleasant as possible for every attendee.
First of all, ask in advance if any of your guests has any special preferences or needs (and, ideally, reconfirm any information to be on the safe side). Doing this a few days or even weeks before the event will give you enough time to prepare accordingly. There are a few simple measures you can take that will make everything easier for you and your guests.
- Offer a wide variety
Do it like Smunch (or even better, choose us!). Offer a vegetarian option - and all fish and seafood allergies are covered. Vegan options are a great choice for lactose-intolerant guests. Legumes, potatoes or quinoa make a lovely gluten-free side. There you go: most boxes ticked already!
- Brief staff properly to avoid cross-contamination
Did you know that the wrong choice of ingredients is seldomly the cause of an allergic reaction? In most cases, allergy-sufferers accidentally eat their respective allergen as a result of cross-contamination. This happens when, for example, nuts are chopped on the same board as onions or a creamed soup and a dairy-free alternative are stirred with the same spoon. Make sure all waiting and kitchen staff receive appropriate briefing before the event to rule this out and choose caterers based upon their experience with these issues. (We do the same when choosing our restaurant partners!)
Source: Farrell Dietician Services
- Label all food
To ensure your allergy-friendly option remains just that, label all the food you serve. This, again, helps prevent cross-contamination, and makes it easier for your guests to identify the dishes they may eat safely. Choosing a lunch box option (like Smunch) is an even safer and simpler solution: by packing portions individually, cross-contamination is unlikely to happen. Clear labelling ensures that everyone can safely choose their own food.
We recommend taking these steps even if you are not aware of any allergy-sufferers among your attendees. It will give you additional peace of mind, prepare you for unexpected surprises and emphasize to your guests how attentive and understanding you are.
What if an allergy catches you off guard?
What if someone forgot to inform you about their allergy beforehand? How should you react if there has been a misunderstanding? First of all: don’t fret! Instead, keep your calm and show your guest that you are in control. Remember all the preventive measures we suggested above that you have (hopefully) taken. There should be an option for everyone.
In any case, be supportive and understanding. Keep in mind that your guests are a so-called “captive audience” - which means they don’t really have the option of eating elsewhere instead. Hence it is only human if they ask you lots of questions about the food. If a guest has accidentally ordered a Smunch they cannot eat, kindly ask the other attendees if anyone would mind swapping. Often a problem is not a problem unless you let it be one.
So happy eating - to everyone!
The Smunch Team