Changes made in restaurant kitchens due to food allergies

Restaurants adjusting to food allergies

FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. – When you cook at home, you know exactly what ingredients are going into your meal. Eating out at a restaurant is a different story, and for people with food allergies, eating out can be a life-or-death situation.

In restaurants across the state, a change is being made to make sure your food allergies are addressed.

Michigan mother Marla Karimipour has a 2-year-old son with life-threatening allergies to dairy and sesame.

He suffered after having a severe allergic reaction while eating at a restaurant.

"His blood pressure plummeted, he fainted, he was throwing up. We had to take him to the ER," Karimipour said.

After that, her family stopped eating out.

She then decided it was time for everyone in the restaurant industry to become educated on food allergies.

"I had heard about this bill that had passed in Massachusetts and one that was in the process of going through in Rhode Island," Karimipour said. "I wrote out a letter, and I was going to cold-send it to all the senators and representatives in the state."

Karimipour's letter turned into the Food Allegery Awareness Act, which was signed into law in January 2015 by Gov. Rick Snyder. This past January, restaurants in Michigan were enforced to follow it.

Restaurants must make food-safety managers go through a training course with an allergen-awareness component.

Restaurants must also display an allergen poster in the establishment's staff area identifying the main allergens.

Buddy's Pizza in Farmington Hills has been doing both of those things. Ammie Watson, the general manager, took the test.

"The whole test takes about two hours," Watson said. "You watch videos and answer questions."

She said the course covers things like how to not cross-contaminate an area and communicate with restaurant staff. She also learned what's a severe allergy, non-severe allergy, and the difference between irritations and intolerances.

Watson said she's been in the food business a long time and wanted to be up-to-date on all the information to help the staff be more sensitive to customers coming in with concerns.

Matt Heckert, the operations coordinator for Buddy's Pizza, said they've taken their signage to the next level as well.

"In addition to the posting that mandates the top eight allergens, we went ahead and broke down our entire menu," he said. "We feel that knowledge is the best way to combat food allergies."

Heckert said at Buddy's Pizza, as soon as an allergy is announced, the server alerts a manager to visit the table and all information is relayed directly to the chef.

Karimipour said this new law is making it's way through the state. She's had a couple experiences in northern Michigan restaurants where chefs will mention the law to her.

She hopes this law will help her son manage his allergies as he gets older.

"I don't want him to feel he has an impairment," Karimipour said. "I want him to be comfortable and confident that he will be able to get himself a safe meal."

Here are some tips from Karimipour and Buddy's Pizza if you or someone you're eating with has a food allergy:

  • Call ahead and talk to the restaurant about how they address food allergies.
  • Have a piece of paper that lists the allergies that you can give to the chef, as a reference while they cook your food.
  • Visit the website; it gives a list of restaurants in your area that cater to all types of allergies and has testimonials from people who've eaten there.

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