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Nashville-based Allergy-Friendly.org starts certifying restaurants as safe for people with food allergies


Nashville-based Allergy-Friendly.org starts certifying restaurants as safe for people with food allergies

ABOVE: Sweet potato and truffle fries are gluten free at Burger Up Cool Springs. // SUBMITTED

By BAILEY BASHAM

Last month, BurgerUp Cool Springs became the third restaurant in the city to be certified by Allergy-Friendly.org, a Nashville-based organization that works to provide food-sensitive diners with safe restaurant options.

Allergy-Friendly.org, which was founded in 2018 by a local living with Celiac disease, works to ensure that a restaurant has trained all employees to be aware of ingredients, allergy-safe meal options and proper processes for dealing with various food allergies. There are no medical professionals currently involved with the certification process, but the organization is in the process of forming a board, on which a medical professional will serve.

“Finding allergy-friendly options is something that a lot of people don’t have to think about every day, but for those with allergies, it’s really important for staff to understand how critical it is — you can’t get rid of a peanut allergen by burning off a grill, and you can’t kill it with alcohol or cleaners,” according to a statement from Allergy-Friendly.org. “Restaurants [seeking an allergy-friendly certification] pay to cover the cost, but we approached BurgerUp Cool Springs to participate as a pilot restaurant for free.”

According to Food Allergy Research & Education, researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.9 million children under age 18. Every three minutes, a food allergy sends someone to the emergency room.

For people with food sensitivities, like Katie Elkins who works at BurgerUp Cool Springs, it’s a big deal to know that where you are having a meal is safe.

“My daughter has a milk protein allergy, I have a gluten sensitivity and my whole family is pescatarian. When I started at BurgerUp, other than the gluten free bun, there was nothing in place for people with allergies,” she said. ““I personally know how hard it can be to eat out so we started a gluten and dairy free list for our guests, and we now have added seven other allergies to our list of things we are sensitive to.”

food allergies
Burger Up Cool Springs, Sunflower Cafe and Mangia Nashville are the first to be certified allergy safe. // SUBMITTED
Allergy-Friendly.org currently certifies three restaurants in the area: Burger Up Cool Springs, Sunflower Cafe and Mangia Nashville. As the organization grows, the intention is to expand beyond Nashville.

Being allergy-friendly means a restaurant is safe for those with a food-sensitivity, and in some cases, a restaurant may even be vegan-friendly, like Sunflower Cafe. Sunflower Cafe is also certified by Allergy-Friendly.org.”As a vegan restaurant the large portion of our food is nature-free, so the major allergens like shellfish, fish, dairy and eggs aren’t present. The kitchen staff are required to sanitize their workstations, wash their hands and change gloves and use clean utensils when preparing specialty foods,” said Regina Robbins, front of house manager at Sunflower Cafe.”Our menu is clearly labeled with icons and a key identifying foods that are free of gluten and soy so it is easy for the customer to identify and choose their meal.”

Part of earning the certification is training all wait and kitchen staff on the proper processes of ensuring something is allergy-friendly.

“The servers go through a lot of training and testing to have the knowledge of the menu, ingredients and allergies, and we have a spreadsheet that can be taken to the guests that shows what items are allergy-safe,” Elkins said.

Elkins said that though the training is more time-consuming and allergy-safe ingredients are more costly, to be able to offer a worry-free dining experience for customers like her daughter, the extra work is worth it. Robbins agreed.

“A lot of the staff here at the restaurant are vegan or vegetarian or have food-sensitivities, so we all feel strongly about the importance of what we do here. Going into a restaurant with an allergy can be a stressful experience, so knowing that the staff is trained and takes appropriate precautions in meal preparation is very comforting,” Robbins said.

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