Tag Archives: Allergen

Giant Eagle on Allergy Signage… [Incident #: 12702111]


So, remember my allergen warning sign photos from Dunkin’ Donuts and Giant Eagle?  I wrote to both of them to thank them for displaying the signs, and Giant Eagle is the first to reply.  I submitted this via webform:

Hello,

I’d like to thank you for actively posting allergen awareness/warning signage.  Sunday, I came upon this sign above some chocolate chunk (& other) cookies on a display table at the GE in Parkway Center: http://bit.ly/bg09rX

As someone with a severe allergy to shellfish, I appreciate these kinds of signs… but the all-inclusive sign begs the question:  Did these cookies come into contact with any shellfish in the bakery?  I hope not!  I worry enough about the crab cakes & seafood salad in the deli counters!

Thank you for your time, I look forward to hearing from you!

-Eric
me@my.email.address

And their reply:

From: sc autoemail <sc.autoemail@gianteagle.com>
To: “me@my.email.address” <me@my.email.address>
Sent: Fri, October 8, 2010 9:06:49 AM
Subject: In response to Giant Eagle Incident #: 12702111

ServiceCenter Operator: arabia michele

In response to your recent communication:

Incident #: 12702111

Brief Description:
Store: Parkway Center Giant Eagle Hello, I’d like to tha

Response:
At  10/08/10 09:06:47  we wrote:
10/08/10 09:06:47 (arabia michele):

Good Morning Eric,

Thank you for contacting Giant Eagle and for sharing your thoughts and concerns with us regarding our allergen signs and the possibility of cross-contamination of shellfish in the bakery.

The sign was generated to alert allergen sensitive customers that our stores do process all allergens. You are correct in your assumption that seafood is not present in the bakery department. We appreciate your feedback and will use it to determine signage needs in the future.

If you have any further questions or comments, please contact our Customer Care Department toll-free at 1-800-553-2324.

Again, thank you for taking the time to contact us and please know that we welcome your thoughts and feedback in the future.

Sincerely,

Michele Arabia
Bakery Merchandising Department
Giant Eagle, Inc.

I’d like to see stores become more active in labeling prepared foods, but this is a a start.  As noted in the comments on my last allergy post, they are currently doing more than required by law… so that’s a good thing.

 

http://aixelsyd13.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/allergy-sign-giant-eagle-p_00533.jpg?w=500

Allergen Signage


Over the weekend I was at two places where I saw these allergen signs, the Dunkin’ Donuts in Dormont, and the Giant Eagle in Parkway Center.  Generally when I see these signs it makes me happy that the place who’s taking my money is at the very least aware that there are products that they have on the premises that may cause certain people some discomfort or possibly even death.

Dunkin' Donuts | Allergen Warning Signage
Dunkin’ Donuts | Allergen Warning Signage

In viewing the allergen information online as the sign suggests, I’m glad that a glazed donut doesn’t contain any crustaceans, but I may now have to scour the rest of the site to see if anything does.   Ha ha ha.

Giant Eagle | Allergen Warning Signage
Giant Eagle | Allergen Warning Signage

I gambled yesterday, hoping that the chocolate chunk cookies  I purchased didn’t come into contact with any shellfish in the bakery.  If I died from eating them, according to this sign, it’s my fault.  I was warned, and should have discussed the risks of cross-contamination with my doctor.

You’ll hopefully be glad to know that I’m not dead, and I had a few cookies last night.  Wow, I had poor eating habits this weekend.  Ha ha ha.  Donuts & Cookies.

At any rate, the fact that they simply acknowledge that allergies exist is a great start.  It’s sad, but so many other food-service companies go with the “it’s not our problem” mantra.  I always thought that Five Guys Burgers  & Fries to be very pro-active with their peanut allergy warnings, and I have commented on the Market District in Robinson’s allergen warnings before.

If you suffer from allergies, do these signs make you feel safer, or are they a blanket statement like “No Lifeguard on Duty” or “Park at Your Own Risk”, trying to absolve the poster of any wrongdoing should a mishap occur?

The blanket statement from Giant Eagle seems a little forced, or an afterthought… as I’m sure there aren’t many lobster cookies in the bakery, but then again there just might be.  How am I to know?  Do I just take this sign as a warning to not eat any food that they prepare?  The sign itself is a great thing, but if it were tailored just a little more to the actual product, it might be more comforting.

I know I’m always afraid of the stuff in the deli counter that’s next to the crab cakes or a seafood salad…  I don’t want a pasta salad with death-fish in it.  Yes, that one little glob of death-juice can kill me.  I don’t see any allergen warning signs there where they’d also be appropriate.  But, I don’t want to get down on Giant Eagle.  They are taking steps in the right direction.  Perhaps I’ll even send them a quick email to let them know that as someone who suffers from a severe food allergy, I appreciate the signage.

If you suffer from allergies, have someone in the family that does, or have a friend that blathers incessantly about them (like me), I’d like to hear your thoughts on the signs.  Are they a good thing, or a bad thing?  Are they proactive or defensive?

What if you suffer from one that’s not a “big 8″ allergen but also quite prevalent like corn, peppers, or chocolate?

Herbivoracious | Understanding Deadly Food Allergies – This Post Could Save A Life


The title says it all.  Saw this thanks to Twitter this morning.  This article is extremely well-written and the title says it all:

Herbivoracious | Understanding Deadly Food Allergies – This Post Could Save A Life

Please, check it out… and pass it on as it asks.  As I look through to try & grab a nice important point for a quote, I find multiple points to be profound.  Rather than re-posting the whole thing, just go read it!  You won’t be sorry.

Excerpt below…

For the purposes of this article, we aren’t talking about the “it gives me gas” allergies or personal dietary preferences, we are talking about deadly serious stuff. Every restaurant has its own policy on how to deal with food preferences, and we can argue all day about the best way to handle that. But when a customer tells you they have a very serious allergy, there are only two ethical choices you can make. You can serve the customer, making every feasible effort to ensure their food doesn’t contain the allergen. Or you can refuse to serve them. Any other choice puts that customer at grave and undue risk. It also threatens your reputation, finances and insurance, and your ability to sleep at night. Do you really want to risk poisoning your clientele?

Assuming the answer is no, the rest of this article is divided into three sections, for chefs & cooks, front of house, and management / owners. You should read all three sections so that you can understand each other’s responsibilities. This is geared toward folks in the restaurant industry, but home cooks can learn important ideas for when they entertain guests with food allergies.

Food Allergy Buzz | Shellfish Allergies at the Beach


Just saw a cool tweet this morning, linking to an article from Food Allergy Buzz called Shellfish Allergies at the Beach.  It excites me because 95% of the time I see a food allergy related article, it involved peanuts or wheat/gluten, and the other 4% of the time it’s tree nuts or lactose intolerance.

Basically, it’s asking those of us afflicted about our beach fears.  I hope it sparks some discussion, and I’d like to find more of us out there!

I had never really thought about the possibility of swallowing a brine shrimp while in the ocean or being pinched by a crab and what might happen…  Heh.  I know I have handled hermit crabs without incident, and even went crab fishing when I was younger with no issues…  I just can’t eat the things.

My issues with going to the beach (besides being a bit overweight and a pasty/chalky white under my T-shirt line) mainly revolve around finding places to eat that don’t serve some kind of shrimp, crab, lobster, oyster, clam, mussel, or calamari dish.  It’s damn near impossible… whether it’s a bar, a road-side or boardwalk stand, or (of course) fine dining… it’s inescapable.

Anxiety over potential cross-contamination is a normal issue for me, but it goes up to 11 at the beach.

AllergyEats | Allergyism?


I know “allergyism” isn’t a word, but it ought to be.  I haven’t blogged directly about food allergies in a while.  In this case, I don’t even really feel the need to rant.  It’s done with a touch more class by the people at AllergyEats, so I just wanted to share a link to their blog, along with a few excerpts…

…how do I handle a wait person’s rudeness when he or she tries to belittle my request in a loud enough voice to catch the attention of the rest of my dinner companions? (“Oh, it only has a little butter – what’s the worst that can happen?”)

Death.

“Bottom line: if you have a sensitive allergy that will send you to the hospital or kill you, don’t eat out.”

Yes.  We should also be chained in the basement, not fed after midnight, kept out of bright light and not allowed to get wet.

“Allergens are proteins.  People are not allergic to potatoes and tomatoes.  This is just neurosis.”

Would you like to speak with my Allergist?

Making people feel special through this kind of a**-kissing is one of the services that a restaurant can provide to people who need it, but it’s not a service that I want to provide… Some people tell me that they’re deathly allergic to something and that I have to make sure it’s not in their food.  I kick them out.  I don’t want to be responsible for anyone’s life-or-death situation.  I tell them they should go eat at a hospital.

That guy is an assclown.

At any rate, check out the article, and the NY Times article that it’s talking about.

Dog Turds and Toothbrushes


Amused & annoyed by the lack of formal response from Subway, I decided to reboot (again with editing help from Dave).  I sent a new message via the webform (luckily this time it fell within their character limit), and also via snail mail:

Hello Friends!

This message is less about a specific Subway location, and more about Subway practices in general.

I hear from recent news reports that Subway has their cheese tessellation issues under control and will assert a more correct cheese placement this July.  Independence for dairy goodness!

Although I was worried about the cheese triangle issue, I am still more concerned about food allergen and cross-contamination awareness in Subway Employees and Sandwich Artists.

Are you aware of how many people out there suffer from some sort of food allergy?  I believe it’s 11% of the population.  Myself, I’m affected with a severe allergy to shellfish.  I can’t eat in your fine stores unless they’re the small ones in places like Wal-Mart that don’t serve the deadly dreaded seafood death sub.

Not only does the creamy death-inducing concoction reside right beside the other meat, the cheeses, and toppings; it often spews all over the open containers when it’s scooped out with that poor miserable ice-cream scoop.

Then we have the community knife.  If one were to cut someone’s seafood sub with that knife, wipe it off, then cut my sub, there are STILL allergens on that knife, enough allergens to kill me.  Do you want me to be thrown in to an Anaphylactic fit?  I doubt it.  Well, at least, I hope not.

Think about this – do you share your toothbrush with everyone in your household?  Would you with everyone in your office?  Would you share it with everyone that you pass on the way to work in the morning or with everyone who’s eating lunch with you at the same place where you’re choosing to dine?

Yes, it sounds gross, but those potential germs that you’re no doubt currently horrified of are the same as the very real allergens that will most certainly throw me into instant death.

If that didn’t do it for you, imagine I put a giant dried dog turd on the sandwich board, cut it in half, wrapped it, wiped off the knife, and then cut your sandwich.  By Subway’s current logic, that knife is clean and contamination free.  This is most certainly not a pretty picture to you, my friend.  Is it?

I really am looking forward to your thoughts on this issue.  I hope to have a continued dialog until the issue is brought to the attention of those in charge of such things.

I thank you in advance for your time, and I hope to hear from you soon!

Blowing your mind,
-Eric

P.S. – I was wondering, when you work in an office for Subway, do you have an in-office Subway in which the employees receive (or make) their own lunch?  Or, is there a Subway nearby where you get free or discounted food?  Or, are you all too sick of Subway to eat there?

Letters to Subway

Letters to Subway

I had to resort to snail mail to see if I get a better response.  Emails are sadly all too easy to ignore.  Unless you’re persistent, I guess.  I did get a response from Paula Gomez again, this time in direct response to the above message sent via direct email, not the webform:

From: Paula Gomez gomez_p@subway.com
Date: Thu, Jun 24, 2010
Subject: Subway & Allergen Cross-Contamination
To: world.and.lunar.domination@gmail.com

Dear Mr Aixelsyd:

Thank you again for your time and sharing your comments. We value the input of our customers and take this as an opportunity to improve our business and satisfy our guests.

The Company policy directs our independent restaurant owners / operators to take all necessary precautions to prevent the possibility of cross contamination. This includes the policy of washing all utensils and containers after each use. Each restaurant is independently owned and operated and is the responsibility of the franchise owner to implement and enforce the policy.

We will ensure that this important message is reiterated with each restaurant to ensure that proper procedures are followed.

Again, I appreciate you taking the time to contact us. SUBWAY® looks forward to your continued visits.

Sincerely

Paula Gomez

***DISCLAIMER***

The information contained in this e-mail and attachments, if any, is confidential and may be subject to legal privilege. If you are not the intended recipient, you must not use, copy, distribute or disclose the e-mail and its attachment, or any part of its content or take any action in reliance of it. If you have received this e-mail in error please e-mail the message back to the sender by replying and then deleting it. We cannot accept responsibility for loss or damage arising from the use of this e-mail or attachments and recommend that you subject these to your virus checking procedures prior to use. Thank you.

Well, at least she remembers that I contacted them before… but I don’t think she remembers her previous responses.  I think I was assured that they all go through training.  I asked about the training, and didn’t get any solid replies.  Now, it seems to be all on the responsibility of each individual owner/operator.

Sadly but not surprisingly, my postscript about the in-office Subway situation went unanswered.  I’m guessing that’s what puts it over the top… even though I had previously mentioned the thought of a community toothbrush and a dog turd in a food prep area.

I’ll wait for some other responses (if I get any), and try to ratchet this up a notch or two.

PA Gov. Ed Rendell mailed me a proclamation!


Food Allergy Awareness WeekI got an exciting piece of mail from the Office of the Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania today.  It looks to actually be signed in felt-tip pen by Ed Rendell himself, or at least stamped on by one of his staff.  It’s got a nifty raised gold seal, and came in an official looking (& taxpayer money wasting) blue folder.

It’s a proclamation declaring the week of May 9th-15th, 2010 as Food Allergy Awareness Week in Pennsylvania.  I believe they’ve declared it in years past, not sure why they need to re-do it every year… but I’m guessing this was sparked by an email I sent recently thanks to FAAN.  Their theme this year is to “Respect Every Bite”.

Check out some photos:

PA FAAW Proclamation - Folder PA FAAW Proclamation - Inside

Here’s a scan of the proclamation itself…

PA Governor Food Allergy Awareness Week 2010 Proclamation

And, here’s the text:

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Governor’s Office

PROCLAMATION

FOOD ALLERGY AWARENESS WEEK

May 9-15, 2010

WHEREAS, Twelve million Americans have food allergies; 3 million are children under the age of 18; and

WHEREAS, research shows that the prevalence of food allergy is increasing among children; and

WHEREAS, eight foods cause 90 percent of all food allergy reactions in the U.S.: shellfish, fish, milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, and wheat. Symptoms of a food allergic reaction can include hives, vomiting, diarrhea, respiratory distress, and swelling of the throat; and

WHEREAS, food allergy reactions cause 50,000 to 125,000 visits to the emergency room each year in the U.S., depending on the source. Reactions typically occur when an individual unknowingly eats a food containing an ingredient to which they are allergic; and

WHEREAS, there is no cure for food allergy, and scientists do not understand why. Strict avoidance of the offending food is the only way to prevent an allergic reaction; and

WHEREAS, anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and may cause death; and

WHEREAS, the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness about food allergy and anaphylaxis.

THEREFORE, I, Edward G. Rendell, Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, do hereby proclaim May 9-15, 2010 as FOOD ALLERGY AWARENESS WEEK in Pennsylvania.

GIVEN under my hand and the Seal of the Governor, at the City of Harrisburg, on this seventh day of May in the year of our Lord two thousand and ten, and of the Commonwealth the two hundred and thirty-fourth.

EDWARD G. RENDELL
Governor

I just thought it may excite some other allergy afflicted and/or aware people out there, and wanted to share the good news!  I know it’s not much, but the proclamation is a small step in the larger awareness of the issue on the whole… and a recognition by the government may lead to further legislation.

Oddly, I think the best part of it is that I got something from the highest state office with a gold seal on it that also contains the word “diarrhea”.  If that’s not a win, then I don’t know what is.

Confused about Pizza Hut & Taco Bell?


The last post was going to have some explanation, but my dumb ass hit the “Publish” button instead of the “Save Draft” button.  Perhaps because the Publish button is blue and shiny, or perhaps because I have a problem actually reading the screen.

Some of you may have seen my blogs posts, and think I’m a little “off”.  Well, you’re right.  But, I do post these things with an odd sense of humor.  Sometimes I write serious complaint letters, sometimes I write ridiculous letters just to be ridiculous.  More often than not, the lines get blurred.  My guess is that you either get it, or you don’t.  If I have to remind you that I really don’t expect every restaurant out there to cater to my special dietary needs, it ceases being funny.  (If it ever was in the first place.)

If you’re not quite sure, or new to my insanity, I’m going to try to recap the latest ongoing saga involving Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.  I hope to intertwine this with some other chaos soon.

So, that brings us to our “what’s happening now is happening now” moment.

Taco Bell has purchased my gratitude!


I got a letter in the mail today from Taco Bell.  You may be familiar with my emails to them concerning the death-filled tacos that they were recently peddling.  This is perhaps the best reply I’ve ever received to any of my either serious or goofy letters to any company.

I’ll dispense with the usual long-winded introduction and get right to it…

Letter form Taco Bell about Shrimp Tacos and Taco Bell Bucks!

You can see that along with the letter, I received five $5 Taco Bell Bucks certificates. That’s $25 in death-free Taco Bell food. That’s got to be the coolest thing I’ve ever received besides my T-shirt from Turner’s.  I’m not sure if they’re buying me off, rewarding me, if they make so much profit per item that it really doesn’t matter if they give this much away for free, or what.  This almost makes me want to write back to Pillsbury/Totino’s and make them feel ashamed for sending me three 35¢ coupons.  In fact, I may add that to the list.

The best, and I mean absolute best thing about this letter is that they’re forwarding my request to Pizza Hut.  Wow.  I trust you’ve seen my unanswered letters?  I can’t even express how hilarious and ridiculous and absolutely gratifying that is.


Death Taco


Death Taco. No, that’s not the coolest new metal or grindcore band, although maybe it should be.  It’s what I’m (of course) calling the newest Taco Bell menu item.  I have had some inquires as to why I hadn’t mentioned it yet.

Well, I did make a faint mention via Facebook or Twitter a while ago, but had declined to rant here as I’ve been relentlessly trying to contact Taco Bell.  You know how successful webforms are, so of course I got no answer from that, then I fished around for email addresses to send a full email, bugged them via Twitter for an address, and even posted an Ask Yahoo! question.  Out of nowhere, I finally received a reply, and I have no idea if it was in reply to the webform, my emails to random Yum! Brands and Taco Bell email addresses, or some other forum.

I’d like to share my original messages with you.  First the one via webform:

Hola, mis amigos de Titan Taco! Firstly, this isn’t about an incident at a specific Taco Bell, but the form didn’t allow room for general inquiries. I’d like to express my disappointment with a commercial that I saw advertising new shrimp tacos. Well, I guess my disappointment is not with the commercial, but with the product… and the main ingredient.  I don’t think I can express my thoughts in a box with a mere 500-character limit. Do you have an actual email address where I can contact someone?

…And this was to some email addresses that I found after some Googling.

From: ERiC AiXeLsyD <world.and.lunar.domination@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, Mar 8, 2010 at 4:11 PM
Subject: Taco Fail
To: webmaster@tacobell.com (and a bunch of other addresses)

Hola, mis amigos de Titan Taco!

I’d like to express my disappointment with a commercial that I saw advertising new shrimp tacos. Well, I guess my disappointment is not with the commercial, but with the product… and the main ingredient.

I have a severe shellfish allergy, and Taco Bell has been a shellfish-free dining safe haven for me for years.  It’s one of the few places where I never had to worry about shrimp, crab, lobster, oysters, etc. ending up in my food, or worse yet… crossing paths in the kitchen somewhere.

I will sadly have to cross Taco Bell off of my list of places to dine… but I’d like you to know that there are many of us out here with severe shellfish allergies who have an increasingly difficult time finding safe places to dine out.  Fast food joints have long been a safe-haven for those of us with a shellfish allergy… as most fine dining and now even chain family style restaurants have several shellfish dishes prepared on multiple kitchen surfaces.  Formerly, as long as I stayed away from Long John Silver’s, I was OK.  Taco Bell, KFC, McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Chick-fil-A, …were all safe places.

I guess I’ll now have to get my quick Mexican fix at Qdoba or Chipotle.

If you’d like to know what it’s like to dine out with a shellfish allergy, please read this blog post.

Here’s an excerpt…

If you know me in person, have dined out with me, or have ready any of my lunacy online… you most likely know what I have a severe shellfish allergy.  What does that mean exactly?  Well, it means that I can’t eat any shellfish, or I go into anaphylactic shock.  Not only can I not eat the shellfish (that’s crustaceans & molluscs including but not limited to ,shrimp, prawns, lobster, crab, crayfish, oysters, mussels, clams, scallops, octopi, squid, snails, and probably even scorpions and pill bugs), but I can’t eat any food that comes into contact with it.  That means, if you cook shrimp on the grill, take it off, and put my steak on  without washing the surface, it’s the same as me eating the shrimp.

I certainly can’t expect the restaurant to clean the grill in between every meal, as that’s certainly not productive on their end… I just usually try to see where the shellfish is prepared, and eat from another cooking surface.  That seems easy enough, right?

I get that it’s my responsibility.  Yes, I’ve had an epi pen.  But I’d really love to not ever have the need to use one.  I’ve even considered getting Allergy Cards, but they seem a little pretentious or something… like my verbal reminder isn’t enough.

Well, getting me in to a place with shellfish is an issue in itself.  Why?  Well in with the aforementioned cooking surface issue…

I hope that this helps explain what people like me go through, and I hope that you re-consider selling death-filled tacos!

Running from the border,

-Eric

And, this is the reply, although I’m not sure if it’s the reply to one of the above messages, or in poking around on Twitter:

From: Poetsch, Rob (Public Relations) <Rob.Poetsch@yum.com>
Date: Wed, Mar 31, 2010 at 7:30 PM
Subject: Pacific Shrimp Taco Inquiry
To: “world.and.lunar.domination@gmail.com” <world.and.lunar.domination@gmail.com>
Cc: “Hunsaker, Brittany (Contractor)” <Brittany.Hunsaker@yum.com>

Dear Eric,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us about Shellfish allergens concerning our new Pacific Shrimp Tacos.  We want you to know that we take these matters very seriously and that the business of our customers is our top priority.  We value loyal customers such as yourself and would like to take the opportunity to win your business back.

To ,  to our customers who might have Shellfish allergens, we have displayed information at multiple locations in our fish.  These include Shrimp allergen signs that are placed on our window and door clings as well as in our ads where orders are taken.  While the Pacific Shrimp Tacos are offered for a limited time only, all Taco Bell employees have been trained and certified to not have any food products come in contact with Fish and Shellfish during cooking and/or serving.

We would like to send you some Taco Bell Bucks as a token of our thanks, so please email me back with your mailing address.  We hope you will continue to “Think Outside the Bun” at Taco Bell, and appreciate you taking the time to write to us.

Sincerely,
Rob Poetsch
Taco Bell Public Relations

Rob Poetsch
Taco Bell Corp.
One Glen Bell Way
Irvine, CA 92618
O: 949-863-3915
F: 949-863-2252
rob.poetsch@tacobell.com

Of course, I needed to reply:

From: ERiC AiXeLsyD <world.and.lunar.domination@gmail.com>
Date: Thu, Apr 1, 2010 at 5:15 PM
Subject: Re: Pacific Shrimp Taco Inquiry
To: “Poetsch, Rob (Public Relations)” <Rob.Poetsch@yum.com>
Cc: “Hunsaker, Brittany (Contractor)” <Brittany.Hunsaker@yum.com>

Hello Rob,

Thank you for the reply!  I was beginning to wonder if Taco Bell has a stand on the issue.  While I am pleased to hear about the allergen warning signs along with the employee training and certification, I must say that I still have some reservations about safety.  I am relieved to hear that the shrimp tacos are available for a limited time only.

It is great that you take responsibility in posting signs about allergy warnings.  Your fellow Yum! Brands organization, Pizza Hut, ought to take note.  They display allergen information on their website, noting that the pizza sauce may come into contact with shellfish… but there’s no shellfish on the menu.  When I asked where the contamination may occur (e.g. in the processing/canning facility?) they were unable (or I sadly suspect unwilling) to provide a detailed response.

Back to the subject of Taco Bell… the giant window-clings showing what I’m sure to many is a succulent appetizing piece of shrimp spilling out of a lovely soft taco shell looks to me like a giant Mr. Yuck sticker or the old-time skull & cross-bones “poison” logo that you’d see in cartoons.  They serve as an effective if not spine-chilling reminder as to the presence of shellfish allergens on the premises.  They would also kick my survival instincts into gear, not even letting me enter the presence.  Seriously.  I would wager that right now, it would be pretty difficult to physically get me into a Taco Bell restaurant. My Eustachian tubes are starting to itch just thinking about it.  I realize that this is also a highly personal mental health issue, but one that ought not be taken lightly, as it’s grounded in a very real fear.

Recently I read the blog of a man who almost died when he ordered a vegetarian Indian potato curry dish that he was assured was safe.  Apparently the dish was flavored with a shrimp brine… which ought to be disturbing to vegetarians, vegans, kosher folks, and people with shellfish allergies.  This is alarming to say the least.  I realize that simple cross-contamination may not seem as serious as flavoring an entire dish with shrimp-juice, but I can assure you that it is indeed just as deadly.  Our friends with wheat/gluten and peanut allergies seem to get a lot of attention lately, hopefully it will spill over to the rest of us with the “big 8″ and those who aren’t even covered by that umbrella.

Have you taken the allergen training, or do you know what’s involved?  I am finding it hard to tactfully express my concerns about the way that the message was conveyed to Taco Bell employees and the actual willingness of the employees to understand and comply.  We’ve all watched training videos on various subjects and rolled our eyes, promptly taken pamphlets and placed them in the trash, or been angered when someone who doesn’t do our job gives us a new or added process that we must adhere to when we’re sure that the person suggesting the changes has never been in our shoes.

While I mean no disrespect to Taco Bell or any fast food restaurant, have you been to a Taco Bell lately?  Sometimes I am concerned about the personal hygiene and motivation of the employees let alone the cleanliness and efficiency of the kitchen.  Sadly, the low quality and poor service of fast food establishments has become a passively accepted facet of 21st Century life in the United States.  For evidence, I give you the term “McJob“.

I have a theory that for so long now, it has been expressed to kids everywhere to get higher education so you don’t end up as a laborer, janitor, or fast food employee… that fast food jobs have garnered such a negative connotation, the only people left willing to take the jobs are the highly unmotivated individuals, people with no other options, or people using the part time jobs for extra cash with no real pride in their work since there’s no real fear of losing the job or striving to move up the chain of command.

I would invite you to imagine that in the Taco Bell kitchen where you are about to dine there are the standard (and innovative!) sour cream and cheese caulking-gun looking dispensers all loaded on the food preparation area… along side a caulking-gun-looking dispenser filled with a highly toxic pest-control chemical that looks interestingly enough like cheese or sour cream.  Would you still feel safe in eating there?  Sure.  The employees can read.  Sure, they know the difference.  Are they ever rushed in a fast food kitchen?  Do mistakes ever happen?  Of course.  I’m guessing you would at least think twice or watch closely before you dine.

I understand that this scenario is preposterous because I would hope that some sort of federal regulations would forbid any toxic chemicals from being stored in a food preparation area.  No such federal regulations exist for people like me, although Massachusetts is moving forward with this type of thing.

While I trust that your training an certification was put forth with the best of intentions, you must understand that I question its implementation, practicality, and how it’s received and practiced by what amounts to be the first line of contact with your customers… the Taco Bell team member.  What exactly does the certification say?  Does each employee have it, or does a certification apply to an entire restaurant or shift?

I challenge you to quiz the workers at Taco Bells in various locations… inner city, suburbs, malls, and the combo units, and see how much the workers really know about cross-contamination and allergy issues and how they’re observed in a Taco Bell kitchen.  (Hopefully, they fare better than Subway employees.)

All that said, I appreciate and applaud the considerable thought and effort that has already gone into allergen awareness.  Spreading knowledge is the first step.  Did you know that May 9th-15th 2002 is the thirteenth annual Food Allergy Awareness Week?  Now is the time to act and inform, my friend!

I would certainly appreciate some Taco Bell Bucks, if you’ll understand that I may hold on to them until well after the current Pacific Shrimp Taco promotion is over. (Pending reviews, it may not last all that long, eh?) Taco Bell had previously been a shellfish-free Mexican-ish fast food haven for me for many many years.  I can’t tell you how many tacos I ate at the mall nearby to where I grew up when I was a teenager.  A dollar went much further at Taco Bell than it did at McDonald’s, Burger King or anywhere else in the food court.

My address is…

Eric Aixelsyd
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Pittsburgh, PA  XXXXX-XXXX

I would like to thank you once again for your time and the thoughtful informative reply.  I look forward to perhaps what may be a continued dialog about allergy awareness issues in the fast food industry, and more specifically relating to Taco Bell and other Yum! Brands.

-Eric

Wow, do I hope they write back.