My name is Mathew and I am allergic to all tree nuts and peanuts. I recently travelled to Cuba with my family and had a wonderful trip! The trip was a great opportunity to write a blog post as I encountered a buffet on a number of occasions and noticed many dangers that could occur for someone with food allergies when eating at a buffet. One interesting observation I made that I have noted throughout this post is that buffets are problematic, not only for people with allergies, but also for people who do not suffer from allergies.
This was my fourth time traveling to Cuba and I would most definitely consider myself a seasoned Cuba traveler. I know the ins and outs of staying safe and healthy while at a resort in the country. I often hear patrons complain about becoming ill, but I can proudly say I felt great from the moment I arrived until the moment I left as I played it safe with my food allergies. As I ate my safe meals, I couldn’t help but notice other customers visiting a buffet and noted some of the unique risks.
- Individual sets of tongs were used for different vessels containing different foods. These were then used to place food on a plate that already had food on it, and to push around various food items on patrons’ This poses a risk to allergy sufferers due to potential cross-contamination.
- Patrons used their hands to pick up food from vessels. Not only is this a serious health hazard, but the hands could have been in contact with an allergen prior to reaching into the container.
- Children laid both hands directly on top of plate piles and then reached for an entirely different plate. This is the same issue as in number 2.
- People would place food items that were on their plate back into vessels. This poses a risk of cross-contamination.
- People would use their plates multiple times rather than using a new plate for each new helping of food. This can be a health hazard and there is a risk of cross-contamination because the plate is potentially contaminated with allergens.
There was no shortage of opportunity for me to be at risk of suffering from an allergic reaction.
For myself, I worked with the restaurant staff and felt comfortable with a few food stations and can share these tips:
- I avoided all deserts. Nuts are commonly found in desserts and in the dessert section.
- I avoided unidentifiable foods. If it is not clear what ingredients are in a dish than consuming it would be an unnecessary risk.
- I selected food that was being cooked in front of me. If the food is cooked in front of me and it is a relatively simple dish such as grilled salmon, I consider it to be relatively safe. I can see what ingredients are included in the dish and how it is prepared. There is relatively less risk that patrons touched the food with either their hands or random tongs. I am weary of things that are cooked off site that do not have proper labelling.
At the end of the day, it’s important to ask yourself whether it’s worth trying to find safe food at a risky buffet, or whether choosing a more traditional restaurant is a better option for you.
For more information on observing at a restaurant to stay safe please refer to my post at https://whyriskit.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/asking-and-observing-when-dining-out/.