When I was first diagnosed with systemic diffuse scleroderma in 2004, the doctors gave me less than two years to live. I was living in Colorado and was simultaneously diagnosed with interstitial lung disease. I had problems breathing and was dealing with chronic pain that made even the common household chore nearly impossible to accomplish. From my view, I had two options: succumb to the disease or fight for my life.
For the next several years, I treated the disease with both modern and holistic medicine. Meanwhile, I made dietary changes that made me feel better and started to pay attention to ingredient lists. I also began to appreciate the restaurants that paid as much attention to what they were serving as I did.
It was during that time that it was suggested to me to start a company dedicated to save lives and improve health by reviewing the nutritional information and recipes of menu items offered across the foodservice industry. This included the review of items that contained allergens, a common health risk when dining out for children and adults.
Through our work at MenuTrinfo, we have helped clients such as AMC Theaters, Brooklyn Water Bagel and Rosati's Pizza, among many others, serve menu items that are healthy, allergen-free or aware and prepared in safe environments. This has been done through a mindset of making the food industry better for people with specific dietary needs.
Because of our dedication and determination to fulfill this mission, I recently decided to take allergy training one step further. Through our AllerTrain Master Trainer program, we are providing food safety experts and trainers with an accredited two-day course covering what we see as gaps in current allergy-training programs. While these programs are important to the foodservice industry, I believe that it's just as imperative to train managers, chefs, line cooks and servers about the importance of topics such as cross contamination, food preparation and the policies needed to protect both diners and foodservice operators.
Once properly trained through our Master Trainer course, attendees are able to go back to their brands and businesses with the ability to then train others, and customize the training to fit a variety of operational environments. This training doesn't just apply to restaurant operators and employees, it extends to colleges and universities, amusement parks, movie theaters and any other type of foodservice establishment.
We launched our first Master Trainer session in January and what I found — and what has made this new training successful — is that for some of the people we train, addressing the obstacles surrounding the service of people with allergens is tied to both personal and professional goals.
For example, Bill Moore is the director of safety and security and Eat n'Park Hospitality Group, which covers restaurants, colleges and universities/hospitals and senior care centers, corporate headquarters, and a professional sports arena. He has worked for the company for 34 years and in 2005 started to research and work on a company-wide food allergy program. What prompted his interest was the increase he saw in diners with special dietary needs. Additionally, Bill's wife is allergic to certain foods and therefore, finding restaurants and foodservice establishments that are safe to dine has been part of his routine.
Bill modeled his company's allergy program after what he found while visiting Disney and through a partnership with San Jamar, established the use of separate color coded cutting boards, tongs and spatulas to ensure there is no cross contamination in the meals for guests who have a food sensitivity. Bill says their allergy program is the number one complemented item that gets called into the company switchboard.
Moore and two team members took the Master Trainer course in January and plan to train employees — managers, cooks and servers — system wide on allergy awareness.
Another one of our new master trainers is Anne Thompson, the co-founder of Mothers of Children Having Allergies (MOCHA). Anne's youngest son has severe allergies and she decided to take the course because of gaps she saw within the college and university system. Anne wants to take her new training credentials on the road in an effort to teach foodservice providers at schools how to properly prepare and serve children with special-dietary needs.
"All of the kids now going to college are the tip of the iceberg of children coming up through the school system," Thompson said. "I don't want a kid to die before we recognize the need for greater policies at schools."
MenuTrinfo's next Master Trainer course is April 8 and 9 in Fort Collins, Colo. Click here for more information.