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More and more restaurants have designed special menu items for patrons with food allergies and gluten sensitivities. Many make a concerted effort — from reworking recipes to training staff in both the front and the back of the house — to provide the safest dining experience possible for all of their customers.

But, hey, stuff happens: A new line cook drops the falafel in the same oil used to cook shrimp, a baker uses the regular paddle to take the gluten-free pizza out of the oven and, bam!, your carefully crafted dish is completely cross-contaminated.

If the consequences weren't so potentially deadly, it could just be another "oops" on a night in the weeds. But allergic reactions to food send more than 200,000 Americans to the emergency room each year — nearly half of those severe enough to be life-threatening — and celiac disease can cause debilitating symptoms, even if a very small amount of gluten is ingested.

Nobody wants to send diners to the ER for dessert. Aside from the PR nightmare, it could be a lawsuit waiting to happen. If you say on your menu that a dish is safe, you could be held liable if what comes to the table triggers a reaction.

Now companies that offer restaurant liability insurance have begun expanding policies to cover claims related to gluten reactions as well as food poisoning and allergic reactions. Add it to existing coverage for liquor liability or general slips-and-falls.

"As with most insurance claims, one small misstep can cost an owner the restaurant that took a lifetime to build," said Ted Devine, chief executive officer of Insureon, an online agency specializing in small business insurance. "Insurance is not a luxury — even for the smallest of restaurants."

Insureon's special foodservice insurance package is one of the growing number of policies that cover not only lawsuits related to gluten reactions, but also those related to food allergies, food poisoning, or other injuries caused by the products a restaurant or caterer sells.

The first step in reducing the possibility of facing such a claim, of course, is complete and thorough training of everyone in your operation about the importance of following allergen- and gluten-free prep protocols. You know this is a daily concern at my business, but today I also think it should be at yours.

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Betsy Craig
Betsy Craig brings 20 years of food service industry experience to MenuTrinfo, LLC a menu nutritional labeling Company. Her commitment to the betterment of the food industry and her desire to affect the dining public are the driving forces behind her new company Kitchens with Confidence, LLC.
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