Mission Possible: Crafting Foods While Avoiding “The Big 8” Allergens

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Each week, our customers come to us seeking an average of 2-3 nights of nourishment, so it’s important that we provide an interesting menu mix that meets the tastes and preferences of a wide audience.  This can be a challenge with our current 6 menu option format but thanks to our vocal customers and paying close attention to some of the broader market eating trends, we’re getting better each week.  There are 14 key criteria that are taken into account to create our weekly menus – we’ll share more about these criteria in future blogs. For today, we’ll focus on one very important one, which we call “allergens, intolerances and sensitivities”.  According to FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) 4% of adult Americans have a food allergen and 6-7% of children under the age of 18 – and those numbers don’t include those with intolerances, sensitivities or are simply looking to avoid them for dietary reasons.  Each week, we field weekly inquires from current and prospective customers about our approach to allergen avoidance, especially from parents with little ones.  We’d like to provide some background on our approach.

Our focus is on the 8 allergens – commonly known as “The Big 8” – that are known to cause 90% of all allergic reactions: fish, shellfish, nuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, eggs and  dairy.  the-big-8There are 4 elements to how we handle these allergens in our foods:

1) We intentionally limit our wheat (gluten) and dairy allergens to 3 meals per week.  These two ingredients are commonly avoided for allergen and sensitivity reasons, and there is a growing trend of avoidance for dietary reasons.  One way we avoid these is by using wheat-free products like Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free flour  and our local favorite, Aleia’s gluten-free breadcrumbs (as a side note, the Aleia’s panko crumbs have the most amazing texture and crunch factor which is why they’re our go-to breading crumb for chicken tenders and cutlets).  Also, as a standard we only use San J GMO-free, Gluten-Free Tamari soy sauce.  Thankfully, the food world is evolving quickly, and we’re gaining access to more creative and flavorful wheat and dairy free alternatives.  It’s important to note that our foods are not ideal for those with celiac disease, which is a serious digestive disorder in which gluten avoidance is absolutely necessary.

aleias2) We limit the allergen to a side cup when possible.  This is particularly common for our nuts, tree nuts and dairy-based sauces.  It segregates the allergens and gives our customers the discretion to use certain amounts of these ingredients.

3) We label all allergens clearly on our menu page and meal label, as well as list all ingredients on the website and labels.  Realizing the critical nature of allergens, we provide complete transparency right on our menu page, so our customers don’t have to dig for it.

4) Above all, our Culinary Team practices rigorous food safety and operational standards to prevent cross-contamination of ingredients.  This includes at a minimum, the deep cleaning of all cooking equipment,  small-wares and surfaces when switching production to another recipe.

As with all facets of our business, we’re constantly learning and seeking to improve how we handle allergens, allergen avoidance and transparency.  This will continue to be important to us as we strive to assist more Boston families with their weekly nourishment.  If you have any ideas about interesting allergen-free alternative ingredients or recipes, we’d love to hear them – please give us a shout!  As always, Eat Well!