# Serving Food-Allergic Consumers
How well does your supermarket accommodate food-allergic consumers? With tens of thousands of hospitalizations occurring annually due to food-allergic incidents, it is now more important than ever that your store take steps to assist consumers in avoiding accidentally inhaling or ingesting allergens.
Even one small mistake or trace allergen could literally be a matter of life and death for allergic consumers.
At a minimum, it is imperative that you have signage related to food allergens and the potential for contamination. Furthermore, it is important to ensure all of your employees are trained properly in order to accommodate any food-allergic consumers who may come into your store. This includes proper cleaning procedures for all equipment used in your store, particularly where common allergens, such as dairy, peanut butter, and soy, are concerned.
Among the most common mistakes made in many stores are simply rinsing equipment with water rather than cleaning with hot water and soap prior to being sanitized. The best practice is to have a dedicated mixer assigned for use with only allergen-free products.
Yet another common error is believing that cooking oil is hot enough to kill any potential allergen that might cause a reaction. Unfortunately, this is simply not the case. It's also important to recognize the importance of not using the same oil or fryer for fries as is used for other products that contain breaded products, nuts, fish, etc. Doing so could easily result in cross-contact and affect persons who are allergic to nuts, fish, and/or gluten.
The proper procedure for preparing allergen-free foods is to cook them in clean oil using completely separate equipment and prep stations. All equipment and work surfaces should be cleaned and sanitized. You may also find it helpful to use color-coded tools to reduce the chance of cross-contact. These tools should be kept covered and clean.
Since most of your cooked foods are in floor metal cooler cases, use "Metal Sign Frames with Maqnetic Bases" to create signage to ensure everyone is aware of proper procedures. Colored stickers can be used to identify allergen-free products. Train employees so they are aware of the ingredients in all foods served. Make a point of providing training for your employees via videos, webinars, and live classes.
It's also important to understand the difference between cross-contamination and cross-contact. Cross-contact occurs when an allergen is accidentally transferred to a non-allergen food. Cooking will not remove the allergen. Cross-contamination is a common element in foodborne illnesses. This may occur when bacteria from raw meat are spread to other food. Proper cooking will usually reduce or eliminate the chance of illness occurring. Anyone can become ill from cross-contamination, but cross-contact is only dangerous for consumers with food allergies.
With food allergies on the rise, it has become imperative for supermarket operators to ensure they have protocols in place to properly accommodate food-allergic consumers.