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* How do I handle someone with severe allergies?

 

 

It's truly not unusual these days to encounter allergies so severe that the client requests you not bring any kitchen equipment into their home. They don't want to take the risk of any of your tools having touched an allergen in the past and possibly tracking it into their home and food. Even the smallest food particle could be fatal to those with severe allergies.

 

One of my first clients was a family with a young boy about five years old that had severe allergies. The list of "no" foods was two pages long. I shook my head at the client and shared with her that I was afraid to cook for them and that it would be too risky. It actually took the client to assure me that I was going to be excellent at helping their family and that I "must" take this job.

 

Looking back, it was fearful in the beginning, but truthfully it felt like one of my biggest accomplishments as a personal chef was making this family happy with food. I cooked probably fifty dinner parties for them since they were unable to go to restaurants to celebrate the milestones of their lives. Each time, they showered me with compliments on how great the food was - even though I was unable to use any citrus, only a few spices, no nuts, just a few options for oils, etc. 

 

I found that it was this type of family that really needed me. The parents felt completely overwhelmed having to cook every meal from scratch while sticking to the allergy restrictions.

 

It was evident I was bringing something great into their personal lives.

 

If you do encounter a family similar to this, I really do think you should accept the challenge. Worst case is that you cook for them once and it was an experience. The best case is that you will make their day and eventually become a part of the family.

 

Notes about Severe Allergy Clients

It's important to find out the severity of your client's allergies.

  • Are they just asking for no nuts to be put in their food, or is the allergy so severe that you can't bring any kitchen equipment over?
  • Is it important to avoid any packaging that states "processed in a factory that also produces products with nuts"?

 

In the latter case, there could be airborne nut particles in the factory or small pieces of nut leftover on the factory equipment potentially contaminating the packaged product. 

 

When a client does have severe allergies, it's also best to avoid the bulk bins at the grocery store as this area has a high potential for cross contamination.

 

There are eight foods that are the majority of food intolerances - milk, eggs, peanuts, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat and tree nuts. Tree nuts include walnuts, cashews, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios and Brazil nuts. Reading labels is key to avoiding these items, often hidden by scientific sounding ingredients. Luckily, regulations have made labeling more strict, so allergens can be found more easily. 

 

That doesn't mean you shouldn't do your homework. When you find out someone is gluten-free because of celiac disease, spend a little time doing research. You'll learn that allergens can occur in food naturally as well, not just in processed foods, such as barley being a wheat product that should be avoided by gluten-free diets.

 

Best Wishes & Much Success to You, Virginia Stockwell

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