Keeping Allergies Off the Table



That was really the catalyst for me to start speaking out about food allergy awareness and safety and to try to teach people what we do at Blue Ginger. I became a national spokesperson for the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) not long after. The system we use at Blue Ginger is simple, low-to-no cost, and it works.

The first step is proper training. Every restaurateur has got to have the time and the means to properly train his staff. It's Rule One of being open. At Blue Ginger, we've always trained our staff not only on the proper handling of food, as any restaurant should, but also food allergy safety. What that means is our staff is extremely cognizant of cross-contamination during prep and during service. I always give the example that everyone knows to wash their board and knife thoroughly, if not change out their board entirely, after working with raw chicken because of the risk of salmonella.

You can't just scrape the cheese from a cheeseburger for a dairy allergy and then put the bun back. It needs to be an entirely new dish.

At Blue Ginger, every ingredient is raw chicken.

Every ingredient is prepped separately and kept separate for as long as possible. Especially now, since we've made a name for ourselves as a restaurant that is hospitable to those with food allergies, it's not enough to keep the eight major allergens separate but then prep the Thai basil with jalapenos and red bell peppers. What if you get a pepper allergy? And that has happened. Consistency is key.

One of the examples of cross-contamination in service I always give is, you can't just scrape the cheese from a cheeseburger for a dairy allergy and then put the bun back. It needs to be an entirely new dish, made with entirely new equipment. When we serve someone with a food allergy at Blue Ginger, it's new tongs, a new board, a new pan, a clean knife. Everything is washed and sterilized.

It's true for every restaurant that the dishwashers are some of the hardest-working staff in the building, but ours really get a workout. And they're trained on food allergy safety as well. It's not enough to just have the cooks aware of cross-contamination. Everyone needs to be aware of why they need to be careful and why those tongs need to be washed before that meal can get cooked. So, at Blue Ginger, everyone, from the bussers to the dishwashers to the front of house staff, receives training on food allergies and cross contamination. Because a molecule can kill. Our servers know that if crumbs from a nut tart somehow get on napkins that were being folded, those napkins cannot simply be dusted off. They must go into the dirty linen bin to be washed.

It's all second nature to the staff at Blue Ginger because it's a way of life here. It's a level of service we provide that we will never waver from, because, for us, there is no other way to prepare food or serve the public. As I mentioned, the absolute backbone of the entire system, and how we can efficiently serve diners with allergies every day during service, is the Food Allergy Reference Book. Or, as we call it at Blue Ginger, the Bible.



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Ming Tsai is the James Beard Award-winning chef/owner of Blue Ginger in Wellesley, MA and the host/executive producer of public television's Simply Ming. More

Ming Tsai is the James Beard Award-winning chef/owner of Blue Ginger in Wellesley, MA and the host/executive producer of public television's Simply Ming, nominated for two Emmys in 2009. He is a national spokesperson for the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN).

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