What Does an Allergy Have To Do With Customer Service?

Those of us in the customer service industry focus much on procedures, ease of use, product availability, and the steps of service, to name a few, all in the hopes of providing our customers the best overall experience. When we have these processes down pat, we believe that’s “all we need” to ensure a steady stream of satisfied customers. But we’re leaving out a significant aspect of service and something very valuable for a customer in need.

What Does an Allergy Have To Do With Customer Service?

For those employees in the foodservice industry, how do you communicate to your customers that a specific food item contains one of the 8 main allergens? Do you use signage, a listing on the menu, or are your employees educated enough to properly inform any customer who asks? This is more important than you may realize.

According to F.A.R.E., Food, Allergy, Research, & Education, each year in the U.S., 200,000 people require emergency medical care for allergic reactions to food. I bet you didn’t realize the number would be so high.

So how can any business tout the great service they provide if a significant segment of the population cannot be sure if the food they serve contains ingredients that may send customers to the hospital? If there was ever an opportunity to make a significant impact in the lives of millions of consumers it is to inform the customers of any allergens.

What Are The 8 Main Food Allergens?

In the US, these 8 items are classified as the top food allergens and must be clearly labeled.

  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Shellfish
  • Soy
  • Tree Nuts
  • Wheat

4 additional food items are considered problematic and increasingly worrisome.

  • Gluten
  • Mustard
  • Sesame
  • Sulfites

Continuing from F.A.R.E:

  • “Researchers estimate that 32 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.6 million children under age 18. That’s one in 13 children or roughly two in every classroom.
  • About 40 percent of children with food allergies are allergic to more than one food.
  • Studies published in 2018 and 2019 estimate the number of Americans of all ages who have convincing symptoms of allergy to specific foods:
    • Shellfish: 8.2 million
    • Milk: 6.1 million
    • Peanut: 6.1 million
    • Tree Nuts: 3.9 million
    • Egg: 2.6 million
    • Fish: 2.6 million
    • Wheat: 2.4 million
    • Soy: 1.9 million
    • Sesame: 0.7 million”

Armed with these facts, every business must put as much effort into informing their customers of any potential allergen risk as they do in developing their policies, practices, and service standards. Customers should not be worried about food allergens.

Taking Care of Customers With Food Allergies

Great customer service accounts for all the potential needs of a customer. A worried customer shouldn’t have to choose between what they “know” doesn’t contain allergens (like fruit or steamed vegetables, for example) versus one of the other wonderful offerings the business has. Think of how much money is lost from ready-to-buy-customers unsure of a potentially allergen-including product.

Too many times the service staff doesn’t know the ingredients, nor do they have quick access to the information to help a concerned customer. The customer is forced to wait for a clerk to find a manager or chef who may have the information. If great service is supposed to be “quick, available, and focused on the customer’s needs”, these actions clearly miss the mark.

And let’s not talk about the potential liability issues of serving an allergic customer an item you “thought” was safe.

How to Prevent an Allergic Reaction

Frankly, it’s not possible to always prevent a customer from having an allergic reaction to the food you sell. No business is perfect and mistake-free. And some customers may not even know that they are allergic to a specific food until they eat it. But there are many ways to lessen the potential of a reaction. Use the “P.I.C.K.A. 5”.

  1. Prevent Cross-Contamination
  2. Inform Employees of Any Allergens Present
    • Hold a preshift meeting with employees to discuss any changes in the menu offered or new products used. Discuss the allergen items included.
  3. Clean and Sanitize Food Surfaces Between Use
  4. Keep an Allergen File
    • A detailed record of each item you offer, including a sample or photo of the label listing the ingredients.
  5. Always Post an Allergen Statement
    • This posted statement describes the steps the business takes to prevent cross-contamination and what allergens are present in the food.

With proper cooking methods and information sharing, you’ll be better prepared to serve your customers who may be concerned about allergy-causing ingredients. And you customers can be assured your business is a trusted vendor to frequent time and time again because you show you’re concerned for their safety.

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