My background in biology, plus working for 7 years in a laboratory, made me very conscious of allergy cross-contamination issues. In fact, I’m a bit obsessed with it. In my perfect world, you use one knife to cut the butter and you use it for nothing else. If you then want to spread the butter on your toast, you use the knife at your plate. You also use separate utensils for the peanut butter and for the jelly. For the mustard and for the mayonnaise, etc. Get the picture?
The people in my house understand those rules. I cringe when I go to other people’s houses and they don’t follow the rules. Even worse when it’s done at my house. You might think it’s obsessive, I just think it’s a good practice. Especially when you consider the shelf life of mayonnaise is much shorter than that of mustard. Or that you might not want peanut butter in your jelly or vice-versa. The worst one for me is having bread crumbs in my butter! Yuck!
All of this becomes critical when you have someone in your house with a food allergy or sensitivity. Cross-contamination in that instance could potentially cause harm or even death. The story of Sabrina Shannon shows how serious the issue is. The tongs used to serve her french fries had unwittingly been used to also serve an item containing dairy. Sabrina went into anaphylactic shock and died as a result. Sadly, Sabrina’s case is not an isolated incident.
So, cross-contamination can be serious and we haven’t even left the house yet. And whether it’s allergies or sensitivities that you’re concerned with, there’s more you need to know.
Since I’ve been studying food allergies, I am much more observant of how things are done at food establishments. As an example: we frequently eat at Freebirds World Burrito. You go down a line and they build your burrito or nachos or tacos or salad as you go. I’ve noticed that they have different bins for the spoons used for each food item. There’s a bin labeled “Ground Beef” and “Pork” and so on. So they’re trying to keep things separate. But it’s not perfect. I often get tacos there. And I’ve noticed that the spoon used for serving the ground beef (it’s grass-fed, by the way) sometimes touches the other food on my taco. And that results in allergy cross-contamination, because the spoon for ground beef now has a little bit of dairy on it.
I don’t mean to single out the one food establishment. In fact, they actually do better than other places. But unless an establishment puts their employees through food allergy training and enforces good practices, they may not be safe for dining with food allergies or sensitivities.
Some argue that it’s just a little bit. But to a person with an allergy, it only takes a little bit.
You can probably guess that I’m really paranoid when it comes to the self-serve build-your-own-salad places. Presumably, the people in a food establishment have had some training. But the general public? Doubtful.
So what is the answer? If you have a food allergy or food sensitivity, then awareness is important. I think you just have to be aware of the places you choose to eat. I have many sensitivities with the biggest ones being MSG and some nuts. I’m very picky about where I eat because of this.
Do you have food allergies or sensitivities? How do you manage when dining out?