Trained restaurant staff can answer food-allergy questions
HOUGHTON — It may seem ironic that a person who has a serious fish and shell fish allergy would own a seafood restaurant, but Alan Kiley said as long as he’s careful, it’s not a problem for him.
Kiley, who owns Joey’s Seafood & Grill on Shelden Avenue in Houghton, said he’s also a Michigan-certified food service manger, which means he’s been trained to answer questions about the restaurant’s food for customers who have food allergies.
Lynne Madison, director of environmental health for the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department, said as of Jan. 1 this year, restaurants have to have at least one certified food service manager who is aware of food allergies and the problems they can cause.
“The certified manager is better prepared to answer those questions,” she said.
The allergen course is taken online, Madison said.
Madison said the new requirement doesn’t mean restaurants have to make any changes in their menus. It just means someone in the restaurant has to be able to answer questions about how the food is prepared for those customers who do have food allergies.
However, Madison said there may be some cross-contamination in a restaurant’s kitchen, and some customers might want to know about that.
The Health Department is providing restaurants with posters about food allergies to be installed where employees can see them, Madison said. The poster names the eight major food allergens, which are milk, eggs, fish, crustaceans, shellfish, wheat, soybeans, peanuts and tree nuts. It also lists possible reactions for those who have an allergy. Allergic symptoms include trouble breathing, tightening of the throat, vomiting, hives and swelling of the face, tongue and extremities.
The certification is required, and Madison said there are consequences for not having it.
“If they don’t have that credential, we would cite that as a core violation,” she said.
The restaurant which doesn’t have a certified food service manager would have 30 days to get someone certified.
Madison said large corporate food-service chains are exempt from the certification requirement because they already have in place internal requirements about food allergies.
Since the new certification requirement went into effect, Madison said she hasn’t heard any complaints about it from local business owners.
“It’s a good thing for anybody who serves food to the public,” she said.
Kiley said he’s owned Joey’s for about 14 years. He “self-diagnosed” himself as having allergies to fish and shellfish about 10 years ago. Then about eight years ago he went to an allergist and found out he’s allergic to all the fish and shellfish he offers in his restaurant.
“I was getting these weird reactions,” he said. “Sometimes it got so bad, I thought I was having a heart attack.”
When he has contact with any fish and shellfish, even a slight touch or splatter, Kiley said he quickly develops a rash on his skin where the contact occurred.
He and one other employee in the restaurant have the new certification, Kiley said, so there is usually someone in the restaurant to answer customers’ questions about food preparation.
Kiley said the restaurant serves more than fish and seafood, and he has been careful for years to take precautions to be certain foods are stored separately so there is no cross-contamination. His employees use separate utensils when preparing food so there is no contact contamination. For instance, a spatula used to prepare fish won’t be used to prepare a hamburger because even a slight amount of fish on the hamburger can cause someone to have a reaction.
He has no intention of stopping his work at the restaurant, Kiley said, but he’s careful not to touch any of the things to which he’s allergic, and he always carries an epipen in case he does have a reaction.
Kiley said the new required certification has not been a burden on his business, and he thinks it’s a good idea.
“From a consumer standpoint, it’s a good thing,” he said.