THE BATTLE to convince more people to cater for food allergies is double-edged.
On the one hand, you want to stress how simple it can be – some common sense, a clean kitchen, clean utensils and being scrupulous about ingredients does the trick. On the other hand, it’s vital to stress how dangerous it can be if those simple processes aren’t undertaken properly.
I understand why many run scared. Legally, it’s virtually impossible for anyone to describe their premises as 100 per cent guaranteed ‘nut free’. But, as our visit to Higher Lank Farm proved, it is possible to cater safely for both allergic and non-allergic guests.
Here are some steps to follow when catering for food allergies:
1. Use only scrupulously clean utensils. I prefer not to use wooden spoons or chopping boards as they soak up food. Everything else I wash well with washing up liquid and water (which is enough to get rid of allergenic proteins) or on a hot dishwasher setting.
2. Use clean dishcloths and tea towels.
3. Don’t use any cooking gear that has a patina of food still on it (eg cast iron pans, ancient baking trays, oven shelves). Make sure you wash thoroughly any extra pieces of equipment you may be using (food processors, scales, grill pans etc).
4. Wash down all surfaces with soap and hot water. Dry with a clean cloth.
5. If in doubt, line a baking tray or oven shelf with baking paper or foil, or use a disposable foil baking tray.
6. When preparing the dish, keep all other allergens away – ie don’t try to prepare a gluten free dish at the same time as you prepare a floury cake, or an egg free treat while you whip up an omelette.
7. Store allergy friendly ingredients in a separate cupboard. Gluten free flour should not be stored next to gluten-containing flour, for instance.
8. Use butter, cheese, yoghurt, sugar, flour etc that has not been contaminated with any other knife/spoon. This counts for every item, from salt to herbs, spices and condiments such as chutneys, jams. If you can, buy fresh and use a new one. Store it in a closed container away from other items, clearly labelled. Ensure a clean knife or spoon is used every time.
9. Never re-use cooking oil.
10. Check the label on every item of food you use – ensure there are no allergens listed and no ‘traces’ warnings. If in doubt, ask the person you are catering for whether they are happy for you to use that product, or ring the manufacturer to check there is no cross-contamination. The major supermarkets have product lists online, listing those foodstuffs that are free from specific allergens, and explaining their labelling processes. Always check the packet in-store before you buy, though, as there are often errors online.
11. Finally – wash your hands throughly and keep washing them throughout. Use a soap that doesn’t have milk, nuts or sesame as an ingredient. Wear a clean apron and ensure you don’t have any remnants of food on your clothes. Don’t snack on anything while preparing the food, and if you need to taste anything use a clean spoon and put it straight in the dishwasher/sink after tasting. Do not reuse it.
If that sounds arduous, have another read and consider which steps you would undertake when cooking for others anyway. Presumably (hopefully) you would use clean utensils, wipe down the kitchen and wash your hands first. Catering for food allergies means being more methodical and scrupulous than you would ordinarily be, but if you keep this simple check list to hand and stick to it, you really can’t go far wrong.
It’s how my Mum cooks for Sidney, and they have eggs, nuts, sesame and the rest in their kitchen. It’s how Lucy Finnemore at Higher Lank Farm caters for kids with food allergies – and she uses just the one kitchen, where she also makes ordinary cakes for other people.
Last note: when the food is done, if it’s not being served up immediately (on a clean plate!) then store it in a closed container, away from all other foods and clearly labelled. When serving, use a clean knife/spoon.
Here’s a handy guide on catering for food allergies from Allergy UK.
Next post – the dishes I wishes more cafes and restaurants would provide…