> Catering to Special Diets - An Overview - The Food Safety Company Catering to Special Diets - An Overview - The Food Safety Company
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    Monday, 14 November 2016

    Catering to Special Diets - An Overview

    With special diets like gluten-free and raw/clean eating taking centre stage in the western world, menus have begun to add dishes especially for those who adhere to such restrictions. Allergies and intolerances are being recognised by the food industry in the public sector for good reason. Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies and the number is only increasing. Among children, there’s been a 50% increase in diagnosed food allergies between 1997 and 2011. In terms of gluten, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) claims that about 1 in 133 people have celiac disease.

    Img source: celiac.org
    Free From and Gluten-Free

    Img source: RSA
    Food allergies generally involve staples like nuts, peanuts, dairy, soya, eggs, and shellfish (the top 14 allergens). Special menu options can be tailored to steer clear of those things quite easily. The same can be said for gluten-free dishes. For those who suffer from the autoimmune disorder or gluten sensitivity, eating gluten will cause damage to the small intestine or allergic reactions. Catering to those who abstain from gluten (3 million in the US alone by NFCA estimates) will expand your clientele base without requiring a huge amount of effort. By avoiding the use of bready things in a couple dishes, you can adorn your menu with symbols to mark dishes as “free-from” or with the trademark “GF” that has cropped up on every imaginable item.

    With so many people negatively impacted by the consumption of gluten, the food industry has stepped up to fill in the gaps. In answer to the growing need for education, the NFCA has the Gluten-Free Resource Education and Awareness Training (GREAT), an online program to train those in the food industry about everything gluten-free. In addition to addressing dietary needs and risks, the training teaches safe food-handling to front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house staff.

    In America, gluten-free eating has caught on as a fad diet and is the next big thing for dieters to obsess over. This trendy diet has been hyped up by celebrities, in books, and by those who must stick to a gluten-free diet for health reasons. This infatuation with gluten-free has prompted companies to label things with the well-received “GF.” As excessive as it may be, labelling food items is a wise move for food manufacturers; however the fad is inspiring those without gluten sensitivities to avoid the protein groups (gliadin and glutenin, brought together through mixing flour and water) for no real reason.


    Vegetarianism in All Forms

    Most menus have at least a few options that are meat-free, but a number of restaurants have only side dishes or appetizers to offer to vegetarian clientele. For vegetarians it isn’t as simple as avoiding the meaty dishes. Animal-based gelatine hides within desserts, frosting, candies, yogurts, frozen veggies, coffee, and other unlikely things. Dishes made with a stock are usually made with chicken or beef stock. Those who do not indulge in dairy or egg products are even more limited, especially when those ingredients are so prevalently-used in cooking. Just how often is butter tossed into a pan to start off a meal?

    This particular diet has flitted in and out of the pages of history since Pythagorean times. In eastern religions (i.e. Hinduism, Brahinanism, Zoroasterianism, and Janism) vegetarianism was encouraged as a sign of respect towards all living things. Some unorthodox sects of Christianity in the 3rd and 10th centuries refrained from any form of violence, including animal slaughter. Today several types of vegetarianism exist: lacto-ovo (dairy and egg), lacto (dairy), ovo (egg), and vegan. There’s a reason that this type of diet has persisted for so long and consistently throughout human history, it makes a statement. In choosing to abstain from an easy source of protein you are refusing to fund the systematic butchery of our fellow Earth inhabitants. A dual-sided sword, the production of livestock produces 36 billion tons of greenhouse gases according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The demand for meat sucks up unbelievable amounts of water and food resources while corrupting the land with animal waste and by-products.


    A Raw Diet

    The nature of a raw diet makes eating out quite difficult. A diet totally devoted to eating uncooked, untreated foods. In a natural state, food is easier to digest and is better for the body. Contrary to popular belief, a raw foodist doesn’t subsist solely on raw produce; fish, sea vegetables, fermented foods, sprouted grains, nuts, seeds, and eggs are included in the diet. This does pose some difficulty when venturing into a restaurant where the staple food choices are pasta dishes or hunks of meat with cooked veggies on the side. To be frank, this type of diet is not normally seen on menus unless in an upfront raw food restaurant. It, like the ketogenic diet, is too outside of the norm to appeal to the general public.


    Menu Adjustments and Risks

    With any type of speciality, there comes risk. In the case of special diets, one wrong ingredient or instance of forgotten procedure can potentially be life-threatening. This is a nightmare for restaurants that can be held liable and slapped with a lawsuit. At the end of the day, once the kitchen staff and front-of-the-house are used to the different labels (free-from, GF, vegetarian, etc.) the inclusion of such dishes will act as a draw to customers. Although special diets can be somewhat of an annoyance, a customer is a customer. Drawing up new menus and prepping your staff for those dishes is a minor bump in the grand scheme of things.

    Liz Allan, a hospitality business consultant leading allergy training workshops for restaurants, hotels, pubs, and catering companies, says to BigHospitality.co.uk, “We’re not talking about converting a menu so that everything is allergy-free. If you offer just three or four items on a menu that exclude four of the top 14 allergens then that’s brilliant, you can market that. And then your staff need to know how to prepare the ingredients, how to avoid cross-contamination – which is just an extension of your food hygiene process.”

    If civil duty isn’t enough to convince restaurant-owners to cater to special diets, then perhaps the law will force the begrudging few to adopt their menus. Defra had a consultation earlier this year about the UK food service industry. A new set of Food Information Regulations state that all hospitality businesses must have dietary information visible on the menu or available to hand out in regards to the top 14 allergens. This regulation is not in place as of yet, but will probably be implemented at the end of December next year.


    For an in-depth look at how incorporating special dietary meals into your menu can benefit your business, check out this article.


    Jacqui Litvan

    Jacqui Litvan, wielding a bachelor's degree in English, strives to create a world of fantasy amidst the ever-changing landscape of military life. Attempting to become a writer, she fuels herself with coffee (working as a barista) and music (spending free time as a raver).
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