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How to Avoid Cross-Contact in Food

A person has a food allergy when their immune system has an extreme response to naturally-occurring proteins in food. While there are over 150 foods that can cause allergic reactions, the so-called “Big Eight” are responsible for most of them: milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish. Allergic reactions vary in presentation and severity but typically involve some or all of these symptoms: abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, itchy throat, itchy/rashy skin, hives, and shortness of breath/wheezing.

What Is Cross-Contact?

Cross-contact occurs when a food allergen in one food touches another food that does not contain that allergen. This is different than cross-contamination, which occurs when viruses or bacteria come in contact with food and make it unsafe to consume.

Avoiding Cross-Contact

Because allergic reactions are at best unpleasant and at worst life-threatening, avoiding cross-contact of food is imperative in a restaurant setting. Here are seven ways to avoid cross-contact and keep customers safe:

  1. Read labels and be aware of allergens. Federal laws require that manufactured food products list all ingredients and clearly identify any of the Big Eight allergens on their ingredient label. This is usually done with a bold “Contains” or “Produced in a facility that manufactures…” identifier after the ingredient list.

  2. Wash hands with soap and water and change gloves before prepping food. Hand sanitizing gel has been shown to be ineffective in removing food allergen particles.

  3. Wash, dry, and sanitize food prep areas. If space allows, prepare allergen-safe foods in a completely separate space than other food.

  4. Use separate cooking utensils and a separate cutting board when preparing allergen-safe foods.

  5. If cooking a “safe” and “unsafe” meal at the same time, make the safe meal first to avoid any chance of contamination.

  6. If frying food, use a separate fryer and new oil for a customer with food allergies to avoid potential contamination.

  7. If you are serving food to a guest with food allergies, communicate the allergy to anyone who may come in contact with the food, such as chefs, servers, and food runners. Deliver the food separately to the table so it does not come into contact with other food on the serving tray.

How to Avoid Cross Contact

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