May 13, 2019
May is Food Allergy Awareness Month in Canada.
There are many exciting things Food Allergy Canada has planned this month to increase awareness and education of food allergies across the country. According to Food Allergy Canada, food allergy is one of the leading causes of potentially life-threatening anaphylactic reactions and a growing public health concern in Canada, especially among children. Approximately 2.6 million Canadians are affected by food allergy, and 1-in-2 Canadians know someone with a food allergy. As there is no way of predicting how severe an allergic reaction may be and no known cure for food allergy, avoidance of allergenic foods is the only means of staying safe.
Allergy procedures at Cheakamus Centre.
The kitchen deals with a wide variety of food restrictions and allergies on a daily and ongoing basis. On average, 20% of our guests will have some form of food restriction. Of this 20%, about one third are made up of allergic reaction ranging from mild to anaphylaxis. Executive Chef, Wade Rowland, and his incredible culinary team have developed a robust food allergy response plan to cope with this. The protocols in place strive to be as inclusive as possible while ensuring the safety of all our guests.
Our ability to cater to dietary restrictions starts with our medical form. It is important that we receive these forms on-time and that the information on the form is current and complete. If we have questions, about dietary or related medical information on the form, we will call within the 72-hour period preceding the visit to confirm our information and try and establish a meal plan of sorts.
The first tool we use is menu planning.
We make all our own salad dressings, sauces, soups, treats and desserts from unprocessed ingredients. This way we are certain of the contents. Every item brought in, and every item served has an attached ingredient list with the allergens clearly marked. These are on hand with the menu being served during service for reference.
Our next tool is how the dishes are constructed.
When the food is presented, we ensure that it is done in the most versatile fashion. An example would be our chicken chow mein, the chicken is roasted and served separately with its own sauce. The noodles are prepared separately, and the stir-fry vegetables are placed on top. This way guests can choose which part of the meal they would like to have without us compromising presentation. If we had more than two guests with celiac disease, we would switch to rice or rice noodles for the main dish. For severe allergies, we use the two-guest rule and make menu variations to minimize the risk of accidental cross-contamination. The more special meals on the counter the higher the possibility for mistakes.
A third tool is our special dietary plan.
This is a form used for guests with multiple restrictions or anaphylaxis. This plan maps out the menu for the duration of their stay, identifying the hazardous dishes on the menu and describing what is served as an alternative. The sheet includes the name of the guest, the nature of the allergy, the group they are with, and an image of the guest for recognition purposes. It is posted in the kitchen at the food pass so both front end and kitchen staff can refer to it.
It is important to remember that we serve many children and guests simultaneously.
These cases have the potential to either cause, or succumb to, errors brought on by trying to accommodate too many issues during a given meal service. Chef Wade has found it is safest to collect all the special dietary requirements under one meal option. For example, individuals with celiac disease cannot have gluten; dairy allergies cannot have cheese; and neither can vegans; so when we are serving macaroni and cheese, all three allergy examples above would receive gluten-free penne primavera. This eliminates the possibility of someone receiving the incorrect meal.
Our sample menus, more specifically “school menus”, will provide an overview of a typical meal-plan offered in a given week.
The meals and snacks indicated may be substituted with alternatives on occasion to meet specific requirements of the attending group. Students and guests are provided with alternatives (i.e. vegetarian or gluten-free options) and these are typically labelled in advance. Menu alternatives will be available at the table, the buffet line, or students/guests will be called up individually for special diets. No matter the meal, the food will be appropriate and safe for consumption, and prepared under established guidelines.
For our many school groups that visit Cheakamus Centre throughout the year, another way to help ensure a positive meal experience is for parents to have a discussion with their children leading up to the program.
Students and guests should be encouraged to listen carefully during meal announcements to understand what food is being served. Meal substitutions will be provided for dietary restrictions, but if a student or guest is ever unsure about the food being served, they should ask a Cheakamus Centre staff member.
Our staff (along with the visiting teachers) are there to provide support during meal times and are happy to answer any questions students or guests may have. A student or guest will also want to notify staff straight away if they believe they may have eaten a food item containing an allergen. Reviewing this at home, will add another layer of safety during the program.
At Cheakamus Centre, our #1 priority is to ensure the health and safety of all the students and guests that visit. We truly believe that, "Nothing tastes as good as healthy feels!"
This is in addition, of course, to providing an authentic, meaningful experience that connect people to the natural world, and inspire sustainable values and behaviours.
Collaboratively written by Cheakamus Centre staff: Wade Rowland, Executive Chef & Sepideh Tazzman, Communications and Marketing Manager