My name is Mathew and I am allergic to all nuts. I recently experienced a close call where a gut feeling played a major role in stopping me from consuming pine nuts in an Asian cuisine restaurant.
A few weeks ago I went for lunch to what most Canadian’s would consider to be an authentic Asian restaurant with my parents and a friend of mine from overseas. The restaurant was lavished in gold colour decor, the service was quick and friendly, although somewhat rushed, the food was very fresh and, unfortunately for me, English was the second language of every staff member with whom I spoke.
The facts that I was trying out a new type of food, that English was the second language of all of the staff who I spoke with, and that the staff were in a rush made this situation notably risky since I am allergic to nuts.
Fortunately, I have been in this situation in the past and my friend was fluent in the language of the staff so I instructed him to inform the staff of my concerns. I watched the conversation and the staff’s non-vocal cues to try and identify the staff’s understanding of the situation. I read the English on the menu to try and make sensible selections. Unfortunately, this was not enough. We ordered a pork filled pastry but I had a random gut feeling to carefully cut it open and ask my mom, an expert in identifying allergens, to look at the filling. The pastry was, although not clear to the untrained eye, filled with pine nuts and eating it would have caused me to have an allergic reaction. Below I summarize the main issues I encountered with this incident and some safety measures for similar cases in the future.
- English was the second language of the staff which means that there was a risk that the staff would have trouble understanding my concerns.
- The staff were rushed which means that there was a risk that the staff would not take note of my concerns in an attempt to make the service quicker.
- I am not accustomed to eating this particular culture’s food and I am therefore not familiar with what ingredients and preparation methods are typically utilized.
- The staff were not accustomed to dealing with food allergies.
Although I was careful, I skipped a couple of safety measures that I could have taken, and will take in the future. These include:
- Asking to speak with a staff member who is fluent in English
- Be as serious as possible when telling the staff that this is a life-threatening allergy
- Avoid anything that includes filling and focus on ordering simpler foods such as grilled meats and steamed vegetables. This will also include a more thorough explanation of cross-contamination safety precautions to ensure the simpler foods remain simple and safe.