Melbourne has a new crown – the food allergy capital of the world.
Researchers at this week’s International Congress of Immunology drove home Australia’s strong response to food allergies in children – but also highlighted that this success comes off the back of widespread allergies in the Australian community, particularly in cafe capital Melbourne.
For small business owners in hospitality, the rise of nut and other allergies raises serious questions about both safety and the quality of a product. Chief executive of the Australian Food Allergy Foundation, Andrew Heslop, says that while Australian businesses are getting better in their awareness of food allergies, providers needed to be vigilant about including all the people in their business in food safety strategy.
“Getting equipped with knowledge is needed not just for the operator, but for their staff,” he told SmartCompany.
“You need to make sure everyone in a business knows not just how to explain the food on offer, but what’s in it. Train them so that if they don’t know, [wait staff] double and triple check.”
While Australians are facing more allergies than ever before, there’s also a space opening up for smaller operators to cater for customers by providing quality Melbourne café culture that those with allergies can actually enjoy.
“I myself am gluten intolerant,” says Robyn Metz of allergy-friendly café Red Robyn in Melbourne’s Camberwell. The business has a largely gluten-free menu but makes it a mission to cater for other menu requirements.
“I found Melbourne was a fantastic city for gluten-free, but as soon as you added another food issue on top of that, it became impossible!” Metz says, which led her to start her own operation.
Researchers at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute have told Fairfax that Melbourne parents are incredibly anxious about food allergies in their children.
Andrew Heslop believes that business owners are across their responsibilities but they have to remember that their food is a life or death issue.
“You never want to fall into complacency,” he says.
“This is especially important around marking recipes and menus to show what the ingredients are.”
Metz believes that showing some care is also very important when facing customers with specific food requirements.
“A little bit of creativity goes a long way when it comes to removing allergens, but also just [letting people] feel like they are being listened to,” she says.
“Just a small effort is so appreciated by those with food allergies.”