Food Allergy Counseling

Food Allergy Counseling
Sloane Miller, Food Allergy Counselor (Picture © Noel Malcolm 2013)

Monday, May 17, 2010

BRGuest, Food Allergen Training

Sunday Night - last Mother's Day

“Hi,” I said to my server. “We called earlier. I have some food allergies that I wanted to let you and the kitchen know about.”

“Of course. I have to say, nuts and fish allergies scare the hell out of me.”

I smiled, “Ha! Those are my allergies. And they scare me too.”

“Don’t worry,” Our server said, “We take all allergies very seriously. We will ensure that you have a safe meal and a great evening. And I personally am very cautious. I don’t want anyone getting sick at any of my tables.”

We continued to talk about allergies and our server’s awareness. We exchanged names (always makes things nicer) and he told me how he worked with another restaurant group that did great food allergen (and wine) training. He was reluctant to say which group (understandable, he's at Faustina now) so I guessed.

"Was it BRGuest?"

"Yes."

Now that I know BRGuest intimately, and I know who created their food allergen training (the excellent Laurel Cudden) and I know the chefs who continue to work on it with Worry-Free Dinners (yay, Chef Meghan Young and Chef Paul Sale), I knew I was in great hands with our server. Even though were we now at Faustina, a Scott Conant resto (not connected with BRGuest in any way), training is training: it stays with you.

So what did we eat? This daughter had braised short ribs which were melt in your mouth good. My mom (fish/shelfish allergic) had suckling pig with homemade pasta. Daughter Kunjali (shellfish allergic) had the red snapper and non-allergic mom Pallavi had lobster risotto. We practically licked our plates. Our server's handling of my food allergic needs and the yummy food, made for an easy evening of wine, laughter and mother/daughter-ness.

I would go back to Fasutina but I'd need to be sitting in this particular server’s station. So, this isn’t so much a Fasutina review (I’ve only been once and I rarely review on one visit) but more of a "Yay!" for BRGuest training specifically and good food allergen training and awareness generally.

I hope you all had an allergen-free, lovely, laughter filled Mother’s Day.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

P.F. Chang’s, White Plains

When P.F. Chang’s reached out to me in March to let me know about their gluten-free menu expansion and invited me to try it out, I was dubious. Gluten-free is the least of my concerns as I'm wheat intolerant, not allergic.

Then, after we went through all of my food allergic needs and they came up with one entrée that was safe for me: Philip’s Better Lemon Chicken (with plain rice and sautéed spinach or sugar snaps peas), I was underwhelmed. Should I schlep all the way to White Plains for one dish?

Normally, I don’t patronize Asian or Asian-style restos. With fish and nut allergies and being wheat and soy intolerant, that’s usually the bulk of an Asian resto menu and it’s not fair for anyone to expect them to serve me safely and well. (Manage risk, rule number one).

But like you, I’ve heard great things about P.F. Chang’s since they started offering a gluten-free menu. I see their outposts when I travel to Florida or Atlantic City and have always wanted to try but felt very cautious. I decided to take a calculated risk (bringing safe back-up snacks and my medications, of course) and go to P.F. Chang’s to see how they accommodate the gluten-free and food allergic community.

I am really glad I did.

It was evident from the moment I walked in, that P.F. Chang’s has put thought and resources behind serving the gluten-free and food allergic community.

P.F. Chang’s Regional Chef Jim McCurley (he’s speaking at NRA show later this month on a GF panel) met me for lunch (Thanks Jim!) and I was able to see how the system works.

When the ticket comes in (marked allergy), a chef stops what they're doing (yes, really), and prepares the allergy/gluten-free meal. Here's a food allergy ticket (NB: I was with a peanut allergic person):



I watched as the chef put on new gloves, grabbed clean woks (labeled gluten-free - see below), clean towels and clean metal wok scrubbers (all from a separate area). He did a wash before the food even entered the area. Here's a beautifully clean gluten-free wok:



As for the food, each item is individually wrapped and that's for everyone, not just GF or allergy orders. Here are our individually wrapped protein portions:



Nuts are in the kitchen but they are individually portioned, in closed containers and they're prepped earlier in the day.



The raw ingredients (fruit, veg, proteins) are placed on different colored plates for GF/allergy orders and served on different shaped plates. All of this prep makes it very easy for a chef to grab uncontaminated items and make an uncontaminated dish. So systematic and makes it so easy for the back of house (line cooks, chefs, bussers and servers). Here's the chef, woking, fast and furious, ready to flash fry in fresh oil:



For the front of house (servers, managers) P.F. Chang’s has The Matrix. About a year ago, I was told, they hired an on-site dietitian. She went through each and every ingredient and put it into a computer system (commercial labels have to abide by FALCPA laws and say if they contain an allergen - that is computed, too). When a guest tells the server they can’t have say, peanuts, the server tells the manager who puts that into The Matrix. P.F. Chang’s Matrix spits out a personalized menu that is peanut-free for that day.

The menus and ingredients do change - so get a new Matrix every time you go.

I *love* this Matrix system. Here's my personalized Matrix for May 7, 2010:



So to the food. After all the back of house coolness and The Matrix hotness, the only dish that was safe for me was Philip’s Better Lemon Chicken, with veg and rice (you see some notes about ingredients on my Matrix). I rarely eat fried foods: one, contaminated fryers abound and two, well, I do have a figure to maintain. But here, they flash fry with fresh uncontaminated oil in your personal wok. I watched the chef do it. Fab! So I had the flash fried lemon chicken, which is dusted in potato starch, cooked with a little sugar, lemon juice, lemon slices and finished with sesame oil. I had to stop myself from becoming a little Allergic Girl piglet at the table it was so yum.



I wish there were more nut-free, fish-free, gluten-free, soy-free dishes for me to try and maybe there will be down the line. Certainly, if more of us request it, it will happen.

So upshot: On this inaugural visit, I was delighted with the system
P.F. Chang’s has in place to accommodate celiac, food intolerant and food allergic diners. I need to visit a few more times but I think this may be the beginning of a beautiful foodie friendship.

For further questions about their gluten-free program, The Matrix or anything else, I strongly urge you encourage you to contact P.F.Chang's directly through their website. Also, do your dining out with allergies/intolerance protocol like the one I outline here.

P.F. Chang’s
The Westchester
125 Westchester Avenue Space D315
White Plains, NY 10601
(914) 997-6100

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Endust Free

The nice people at Endust sent me a few cans of Endust Free to try.

According to the publicist: Endust Free recently received the asthma & allergy friendly Certification Mark from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) making it the first fragrance-free, hypoallergenic dusting and cleaning product scientifically-proven to work.”

[Nota Bene: the term “hypoallergenic” was created by Max Factor in the 1950s to apply to cosmetics. It is not a medical definition, there is no industry standard for use and hypoallergenic is not a FDA classification.]

However, being Certified asthma & allergy friendly™ by The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) is a rigorous process (not FDA but still, at least scientific). That’s pretty cool.

So what’s this new Endust Free like? It has no fragrance. None. No even an aerosol outgas smell. And it does nice things to my Ikea Expedit shelves like making them shiny and dust-free.

Super!

My question to the PR firm was: Why use Endust Free versus a nice clean wet rag (no smell and de-dusts just fine)?

Their reply: “We of course encourage any person suffering from allergies to use the best product or cleaning option that addresses their own specific needs. When it comes specifically to Endust Free® our product was designed to meet the needs of the allergy sensitive consumer and is the first Non-Disinfecting Hard Surface Spray Cleaning Product to be Certified asthma & allergy friendly™ by The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).

Endust Free is the only fragrance-free, hypo-allergenic dusting and cleaning product designed to reduce allergens on surfaces and in the air to help reduce allergic reactions. Whereas you can certainly use a wet rag to clean a variety of surfaces, Endust Free Dusting and Cleaning Spray retains all the cleaning power of the Endust brand, to quickly dust and clean for a natural shine.

Additionally, according to research by Allergy Standards Ltd., Endust Free removes up to 90% more dust mite allergen than damp dusting and up to 92% more dust mite allergen than dry dusting.

Other benefits include:
-Free of perfumes and fragrances
-Contains less-irritating ingredients
-Narrow directed spray to reduce bothersome mist and overspray
-Twist-and-lock cap to protect against accidental spraying
-10 oz. ergonomic-shaped can for a more comfortable grip
-14 percent less packaging


Here are some further FAQ’s from Endust if you have more questions.

Endust Free wants you to try some. So, I’ll be running a contest on this month's newsletter. (If you don’t already receive my newsletter, just email me and I’ll put you on the list. Your information is kept totally private BTW).

Thank you Endust Free. I look forward to more cleaning products becoming allergy aware, using fewer allergenic ingredients and to and more products becoming certified asthma and allergy friendly.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Cybele Pascal, Whole Living

Here's a great FAAW week 2010 giftie: Cybele is blogging for Martha (yes, that Martha!)

From Whole Living: “As an allergen-free cookbook author, I specialize in creating "free-to-eat" versions of traditional favorites. Just leave me a comment about your most wished for recipe you’d like converted to allergen-free and/or gluten-free, and I’ll tackle turning “off limits" into "go-to." Each week, I will choose one request, and then blog about my attempts to convert that recipe into something delicious and safe.”


More on Whole Living. Go Cybele!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Thank you, Allergy Moms

Two weekends ago, I had the good fortune to hang out with über-allergy mom, Heidi and her family in Brooklyn. We had a lovely lunch at one of their safe spots: La Fonda, authentic Mexican food, opened by the former executive chef of Rose Mexicano. It was muy delicioso. Heidi had done a triple check to ensure the lunch was safe for her allergic family of three and this Allergic Girl. She emailed, called and even stopped in to talk with the chef about everyone's food allergies. So wonderful and I so appreciated it. Thank you Heidi!

For the two weeks since then, I’ve been thinking about all of the hard-working, motivated, outspoken, loving, warm, funny and caring food allergy moms I’ve met through this blog, through Worry-Free Dinners, through my coaching program, through Twitter and the FA moms I see every year at food shows and FAAN conferences. So many this past Saturday in Tarrytown, it was an allergy mom/activist fest - my head is still spinning.

I’m constantly moved each and every one of you; by how you all work so hard to make the world safe for your food allergic family members, how much you've all accomplished thus far and how there's even more on the way.

I’m also deeply touched by how often you allergy moms extend the umbrella of food allergy care and warmth to me – this grown-up Allergic Girl. So many of you have taken me into your lives, your homes and your hearts – I am truly honored.

So on this Mother’s Day, I want to extend a sincere *Thank You* to all of the food allergy moms out there for your love and support, professionally and personally.

And of course, a special thank you to my food allergic mother.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

"Give It Up", FAI

Food allergy awareness week is upon us (it starts on Sunday) and here’s FAI’s Food Allergy Initiative) contribution: "Give It Up". Read on.

***

Allergic Girl: Tell us about Food Allergy Initiative:

Steve Rice, FAI: FAI is the largest private source of funding ($65 million and counting) for food allergy research in the United States. Our goal is simple: find a cure for life-threatening food allergies through research, advocacy and education.


AG: What do you do at FAI?

SR: I am the Director of Public Affairs and the Washington, DC presence for FAI (which is based in New York City). My job is to help increase federal funding of research to help find a cure. To do that, I mobilize food allergy families and others to communicate with federal policymakers that the government must do more.


AG: Tell us about the “GIVE IT UP” campaign for food allergy week?

SR: We are asking people to support their friends and family that have food allergies by giving up a favorite food during Food Allergy Awareness Week – then we’d like them to tell their elected officials and our Facebook community about their experience.


AG: It’s a deceptively simple idea. Can you expand?

SR: Life-threatening food allergies are incredibly challenging and often dangerous to live with, and there is no way most people can truly appreciate the impact these allergies have on the day to day lives of sufferers. But there are 12 million Americans now with food allergies, and this is a huge public health problem. We need more people, and subsequently policy makers, to get a glimpse into this existence – no matter how small – and understand why finding a cure must become a bigger national priority.

AG: What inspired the “GIVE IT UP” campaign for this year’s food allergy awareness week?

SR: A group of our volunteers were brainstorming about holding a new, family-oriented event in New York and came up with the concept. As we began to discuss it further, we realized that by leveraging the power of social media, we could reach out to people nationwide. And of course, Food Allergy Awareness Week is the ideal time to do that.

AG: Who do you think should join?

SR: We hope food allergy sufferers will ask everyone they know to walk in their shoes this week. And those with food allergies should lead the charge by telling their elected officials now is the time for action.

AG: What are you hoping the non-food allergic participant get out the experience?

SR: A better understanding of the challenges faced by people with food allergies, and the motivation to flex their muscles and advocate to public policymakers about the need to fund research to find a cure.

AG: What are you giving up, Steve?

SR: I am giving up eggs during Food Allergy Awareness Week, because I hear they are among the single toughest allergens to avoid. As I seek to mobilize people whose families suffer from food allergies, I believe it is critical to walk in their shoes so I can relate to the challenges they face.

AG: What else is FAI up to?

SR: FAI invests in studies to find a cure and better diagnose and treat food allergy symptoms and complications, including anaphylaxis and chronic diseases of the skin and gastrointestinal tract. (FAI funds over 30 basic and clinical research studies at major medical centers worldwide.) While you’re on the FAI website, check out http://www.faiusa.org/?page=FAI_Research_Grants for details about our ongoing studies. We’re also getting lots of compliments on our new video, “Parents Speak about Their Children’s Food Allergies” (http://www.youtube.com/user/faiusa) — which shows exactly why this research is so important.

***

Excellent, Steve. Thank you. You can find more info about "Give It Up" and FAI here (and any hotlink above).

Food Allergy Awareness Week, Twitter Party, 2010

Ruth and Jen, those fab food allergy moms (and all around fab ladies) are doing it again, another twitter party, this time for food allergy awareness week.

Join them: Tuesday, May 11, 2010 (8:00 PM) at Eastern Time on Twitter, hashtag #FAAW.