Wednesday, 13 December 2017
How is the restaurant 'Bella Italia' at catering for people with food allergies?
Finding "safe" places to eat out when suffering with allergies and anaphylaxis is an absolute nightmare! Anxiety kicks in if you've not eaten somewhere before and you spend time stressing over whether or not the food you're going to eat will be okay. Thankfully, in December 2014, a new legislation was introduced which in turn means that takeaways and restaurants must know if there is the presence of one of the top EU allergens (eggs, tree nuts - brazil nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia/queensland nuts, pecans, walnuts, pistachio nuts and cashews -, peanuts, milk, fish, crustaceans - e.g. crab, lobster, crayfish, shrimp, prawn etc. -, molluscs - e.g. squid, oysters, muscles etc. -, soya, sesame seeds, cereals containing gluten - in particular wheat e.g. spelt, khorasan wheat/kamut etc., rye, barley, oats or their hybridised stains etc. -, celery and celeriac, mustard, lupin and sulphur dioxide and sulphites) (Food Standards Agency, 2014). The restaurant or takeaway must either have an allergen menu clearly displaying what each of their foods contain regarding the top EU allergens or they must be educated enough about it that they can provide assurance about what would be safe to eat for someone with that particular allergen, whilst this is now legal restaurants and takeaways do not have a legal obligation to display or know about if their food items "may contain" that particular allergen or if there's a risk of any cross contamination of that particular allergen to the food item. This definitely makes it a lot more problematic regarding finding safe places to eat. I will be starting a new "series" on my blog where I will be reviewing certain chains of places to eat in the hopes that I can help people struggling with allergies and anaphylaxis find reassurance regarding which places to eat are good when it comes to eating food from them if you have an allergy and anaphylaxis or if they struggle to cater for people with allergies and anaphylaxis.
*Please note that whilst some chains of takeaways and restaurants do have a company-wide policy regarding how to handle allergens it has been brought to my attention that different locations can differ, whilst one location of a particular chain may be great with handling allergies a different location of the same chain may be somewhat clueless. I will be talking about the particular location/s of the chain I have visited and how I have found them. The particular food allergies that I suffer with are anaphylaxis to: peanuts, all tree nuts, crustaceans and molluscs.*
My first review will be for Bella Italia. The particular chain I visited was on Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow and I visited on the 10th December 2017.
On being seated at Bella Italia I alerted the manager (who seated me) that I had a few severe food allergies and did they have an allergen menu I could look at. At first I was asked if my allergy was to gluten, the reason behind this is they have a separate menu where everything is gluten free. I explained that my allergies do not feature gluten and it's something I am okay with but they are other allergens. She handed me the menu and advised me to have a browse of the menu and see if there was anything I'd like and when it came to ordering food to alert my server of my allergies and they'd ensure what I was going to eat would be okay for me.
Bella Italia is mainly Italian food. First thing I noted was that the pesto they used did feature tree nuts, there was a note at the bottom of the menu letting you know this so I knew immediately to avoid choosing anything which featured pesto in it, this is quite common for pesto to contain nuts, usually cashew nuts son I personally hadn't gotten my hopes up that the pesto would be nut-free. The second thing I noted was a note at the bottom of the menu that was worded "due to the presence of allergenic ingredients in our kitchen we cannot give 100% assurance that your food will be free from allergens", this personally didn't worry me too much as this is a statement that most restaurants and takeaways use as if they do use ingredients within the kitchen they cannot say 100% that what you will be eating will be safe. I decided on a create your own pizza with roasted red peppers and olives.
When the waitress came to take my order I alerted her that I have a few severe food allergies. She explained that the allergen menu they have is really big and detailed so if I advised her what I'd like to eat she would check with the allergen folder that it would be okay for me and also speak to the kitchen staff to not only alert them to my allergies but to further clarify that what I would be ordering would be safe for me and it would also decrease the risk of any cross contamination occurring, she let me know that they'd prepare my food in a separate part of the kitchen to further reduce the risk of cross contamination.
I let her know what I'd decided on and she went off to check the allergen folder and also check with the kitchen staff, After a short while she came back to let me know that my choice of dish would be suitable for my allergies and shouldn't cause any problems.
Bella Italia seem to not only label for if a dish contains the allergens but also if there's any risk of the dish may containing the allergen or any cross contamination risk.
My pizza arrived and it looked lovely! It tasted absolutely lovely too and I throughly enjoyed it with no allergy-related issues occurring.
I found my experience to be a really good one and it really reassured me that the staff seemed educated on the seriousness of allergies and didn't just dismiss my allergies and try to make out what I'd chosen was safe. It made me feel very at ease that they also would be taking extra steps to try ensure that my food would be safe for me. Although the statement at the bottom of the menu stated that they couldn't 100% assure that the food would be safe I felt reassured that they went out of their way to try and have as little possibility of cross contamination occurring.
I definitely would recommend Bella Italia's restaurant chain to others suffering with allergies as I feel my experience was one which was really good. I'd definitely revisit Bella Italia and in the future will be exploring other locations to see if their chain allergy policies are carried over to other locations.
Food Standards Agency (2014), Accessed on 13th December 2017, Available at <https://www.food.gov.uk/science/allergy-intolerance/label/labelling-changes>