10 November 2012

Food Allergy Gal in the News

Rise In Food Allergies & Special Dietary Needs, Brings Food Allergy Gal To Rescue

Sep. 23, 2013 - ATLANTA -- Food Allergy Gal, aka LaraHolland, swept the nation this summer as she and her crew performed allergy audits across the southeastern United States from planes, trains, automobiles, truck stops, small town restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, small markets, upscale dining and chain restaurants and cafes.

Holland’s mission was not only to serve her customers but to find a more central location to relocate Food Allergy Gal’s headquarters. However, the results of the allergy audits were astounding. More consumers than ever are reporting food allergies and serious special dietary needs. They are begging for help and they call on Food Allergy Gal to provide solutions.

As of September 15, 2013, Food Allergy Gal is now in a new permanent headquarters in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward district. She and her staff picked this location and are now helping commercial kitchens including universities, restaurants, food manufacturers, bakeries and K-12 schools in helping meet this growing demand for food allergy and gluten friendly food items.

“There’s way more than just Gluten Free that is holding consumers back from eating outside of their own kitchens, it’s those who are just beginning to understand they have other special dietary needs, everything from low sodium diets to low protein diets,” said Holland, creator of the Food Allergy Gal Brand.“ Consumers are generally stumped when they have a need to change the way they have been eating to save their lives. I’ve been in the food industry since I was 3 years old. I’ve been dealing with my own special dietary needs and late onset food allergies for the last 11 years. I started building real solutions to help consumers and the food industry that serves them. It’s not ’healthy eating’ it’s eating so they can live. People often think food has to taste like cardboard in order to be ’healthy.’ I despise that comment. I am here to help provide more than just food alternatives but also education, electronic solutions, alternative outlooks and high standard taste.”

Offering products like her AllerSmartMenu gives Food Allergy Gal an edge in the market.

“It’s an interactive menu guide for anyone dealing with any special dietary need. For example, if you are vegan and you want to make sure there are no animal products being used in the dish you are about to order, you can click the menu item and read every sub-ingredient component but better yet, when you register with the app on the phone and select Vegan, it will tell you which items on that menu are suitable for you. It only works if the restaurant industry subscribes to the service though.”

AllerSmartMenu is out of beta testing and currently being used by Red Robin to help identify the Big 8 Food Allergens in the U.S. within their menu items. There are over 160 foods known to cause allergic reactions. Each country has its own set of major allergens. It’s so important to understand that we are in the hospitality industry if we are the food business, no matter what aspect. “We put things into people’s bodies, it’s going to affect them in some way, for better or for worse, therefore we need to be social responsible,” Holland says with great conviction.  She should know, she lost a kidney and nearly died a few times in her life due to unknown food allergies. Until she was diagnosed with all 9 food allergies, she suffered from regular kidney failure and with only one kidney remaining, which was a dangerous issue for her. While doctor’s won’t confirm her suspicion that the two medical issues are related, all Holland knows is that she feels much better and is able to keep up her regular activities consistently.

LaraHolland, Food Allergy Gal, is now recognized as a Food Industry Expert. She is known for stomping out many misnomers about food allergies, healthy food, and special dietary concerns. She is appalled when people have been in the food industry for over 30 or 40 years and often misquote what she has thought was common information. Then again, this information is rarely discussed in formal education classes and the majority of the food industry is not formally educated on food itself or the cause and effect relationship it has on our overall health. The food industry has not been given the attention it needs and LaraHolland is here to help solve that issue. She travels globally to help clients and will now be pleased to welcome them to her Georgia headquarters for private lessons.

Due to an overwhelming demand, LaraHolland, Food Allergy Gal is now taking on 10 one-on-one clients from coaching to cooking with special dietary needs.  She estimates that she will be able to work with each client for a 12 week period and provide an annual follow up.  Every year she hopes to help at least 40 individuals while serving over 200 commercial kitchens per year. She and her crew are open and ready for business.

Food Allergies on the Rise

by Neil Canavan
Food allergy is a serious and growing public health issue. Recent data suggest that approximately 15 million Americans have food allergies, including one in every 13 children. Every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control report that food allergies result in more than 300,000 ambulatory-care visits a year among children under the age of 18.
The most serious reaction to a food allergy is anaphylaxis, an exaggerated immune response that can lead to severe rashes, pronounced swelling, particularly of the throat and tongue, and a precipitous drop in blood pressure that can be fatal. Teenagers and young adults with food allergies are at the highest risk of fatal food-induced anaphylaxis.
Eight foods account for 90 percent of all reactions: Milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish. Even trace amounts of a food allergen can cause a reaction.

Regulatory Action

“Currently, the FDA is weighing the issue of preventive controls and food allergen thresholds—matters of great importance to the food allergy community,” says John Lehr, CEO of the nonprofit advocacy organization, Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), McLean, Va. “In January, the FDA requested public comment on a new proposed rule on preventive controls called Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food. It would improve safety across the food system by reducing the risks from all hazards in manufactured foods.”
The regulations would include specific requirements for preventing the unintended presence of allergens, generally referred to cross-contact, including requiring companies to identify areas of concern and to implement plans to prevent cross-contact.
Another major issue of concern is the mislabeling of food. “Prior to 2004, there was no requirement in the law specifically requiring that food allergens be labeled,” says Lehr. “Then with the passage of the Food Allergen and Labeling Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) by Congress, companies were required to declare the eight major allergens.” However, Lehr points out, even though the legislation has been in place for several years, there are still recalls for undeclared allergens, “So there is still a significant problem.”
Helping to address the problem, FARE offers a website with a list of resources for industry, and for members of the food allergy community. “We also have staff members who address industry groups on a regular basis, speaking to employees about the food allergic consumer’s perspective,” says Lehr. “We also host the annual meeting of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Alliance, a group of advocacy organizations around the world.” This year’s meeting, which will be held in early October, includes an industry day that brings together regulatory officials, representatives of the food industry, and allergy advocates to discuss issues in food allergy safety.
Even trace amounts of a food allergen can cause a reaction.

Establishment of Thresholds Key

“There is a large range in individual threshold doses,” says Steve Taylor, PhD, director of the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “If you just look at peanut allergy alone, some people have to eat several peanuts, or a hand full to get sick. Other people would react to small specks.” For specific measures of what induces an allergic reaction there is enough published data out there, Dr. Taylor thinks, to get a consensus on how much is too much—insofar as food production is concerned—and how that threshold, or reference dose should be the industry standard for the detection and prevention of cross-contact.
Yet, precise regulatory guidelines are lacking. “None of the public health agencies have established regulatory reference doses so, in the absence of official action, everybody continues to work towards zero, which of course you can never achieve.”
The big questions remaining for the food and beverage industry are, how do I effectively clean, and further, how can I validate cleaning efficacy? Dr. Taylor points out that the FDA is working on it, and he hopes some standards will be set soon. “The FDA published a threshold notice in the federal register as part of the FALCPA in December of last year, and they sought public input. So, they are certainly seriously considering it.”
Of course some sectors of the food and beverage industry and some types of facilities have a greater risk profile. “Any situation where you have a clean-in-place system, say like, dairy processing, that’s the ideal way to clean up because you can use copious amounts of aqueous fluids to do the cleaning,” says Dr. Taylor. Standards can be programmed in—all you have to do is push the button. “It’s much harder to do in any situation where you have to rely upon dry cleaning. Bakeries are a good example. Baking ovens are only partially accessible, and not easily cleaned.” Ensuring an allergy-free environment in such a case would likely involve the use of laboratory test kits, which are now widely available.
The biggest risk of allergen cross-contact is at your local restaurant. “That’s where most of the more serious reactions occur,” Dr. Taylor says. Foods are not labeled, as they would be in a grocery store, and the server may not really know all the ingredients of a certain dish.
“It’s pretty hectic in those kitchens during the dinner hour—could peanut residue from your entrĂ©e end up in mine? Probably. And because of that I know any number of peanut-allergic people who won’t eat in certain kinds of restaurants because they know that the risk is there.”
The biggest risk of ­allergen cross-contact is at your local restaurant.

Rapid Test Kits

Due to the rising prevalence of allergies to certain foods, and the relatively certainty of new regulatory standards, business in the testing sector is brisk.
“We have different diagnostic kits that you could use yourself in-house,” says Jennifer Baker, a product manager for Neogen, headquartered in Lansing, Mich.
Kits are based on antibody technology, such as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, commonly known as ELISAs—these are quantitative. For more “yes or no” type testing there are swipe tests. “These can be done in five minutes, and it lets you know if you cleaned your surface well enough.”
As for the threshold of detection, “the tests have always been sensitive,” says Baker. “In many cases I think the kits are more sensitive than they need to be (since the FDA has yet to set the standards) but that provides an additional layer of security for the food manufacturers.” 
While interest in allergen testing has been relatively constant of late, what Baker has noticed is a much greater interest in testing for gluten—a problem not described as an allergy per se, but a sensitivity. “We’re getting inquiries about kits for wheat seed allergen, and also barley and rye. That’s definitely been on the increase since the establishment of the gluten-free market.”
Neogen has also recently developed an assay for mustard. “A Canadian law recently went into effect that states that mustard must be included in labeling, so in the last year we introduced both a quantitative assay and a lateral flow test, we also added a new lateral flow test for sesame, also on the Canadian list.”

Restaurant Rescue

Necessity is sometimes the mother of re-invention—take the case of Lara Holland, a certified food allergy and gluten consultant for commercial kitchens based in southern California.
“I grew up with the belief that people with food allergies were just picky eaters,” recalls Holland. All through childhood she could eat anything, but then a serious illness in her twenties changed all that, and the average meal became a minefield.
“I became acutely embarrassed about my food allergies—I didn’t want to talk about it.” It seemed few understood, and fewer still were willing to accommodate what could easily be a life-threatening allergic sensitivity.
In self-defense, Holland set out to get an education. Training as a nutritionist, and then working in commercial kitchens, Holland came to understand the product, and the production line, and became an expert on where the hazards lie. Her focus now is on food service.
“Often times people’s most serious reactions happen inside a restaurant—they encounter the allergen where they have no control.” And hazards can be commonplace. “You tell the server, ‘no nuts’ and the server forgets to write it down, or worse, the line cook doesn’t see it or ignores it, or the dish is premade and the server picks off the nuts and brings it to your table.” An hour later you’re in the hospital.
A second offense is ignorance of ingredients. “You may think the soy sauce is gluten free but often it is not, you may think there’s no garlic in the condiment, but there is…”
For the first offense, Holland can offer an allergy audit of an operation, followed by staff training, online or in person. “For the most part, servers really do care; it’s just that sometimes they have no idea.”
As to the second offense, Holland has, with her nutritionist and restaurant background and the help of a software designer, put together a program tailor-made to each restaurant client, a program that provides an allergy-free menu to the customer and alerts to the kitchen.
The AllerSmart program works like this: All the ingredients for all menu items are input into the program. When the customer says, “I’m allergic to shellfish,” the server enters that information, the program then generates a list of shellfish-free options. Further, the kitchen receives an alert that table six has a shellfish sensitivity, so be extra careful to avoid cross-contact on the prep line.
Holland says reactions to the program are positive. “They tell us that it will save them money on training (staff turnover is generally high) and moreover, minimizes their liability regarding law suits.” 
And it’s just plain good for business. “Once you’ve served that person with special needs, they will be forever loyal. We see increases from 8 to 25 percent in revenue with food allergic diners,” comments Holland.

Canavan is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Reach him at ncanavan@hotmail.com.

# # #
Menu testing services now offered for allergen-friendly meals
Food expert Lara Holland has developed a restaurant training program to help identify menu flaws as operators try to attract consumers with food allergies.
Holland works directly with restaurants — from single locations to national chains — to help them better cater to the estimated 15 million Americans suffering from food allergies.
"What we're truly doing is developing a plan to bring individuals with food allergies back into the mainstream as regular customers," Holland said. "For far too long, this group has been relegated to being ignored by commercial kitchens in hotels and by restaurants large and small. But the more I work with these professionals they realize there's incredible opportunity to bring in a sense of loyalty if a menu is even slightly tailored to meet the needs of these customers, or if they have been through a certification process."
Holland trains professionals on how to manage food allergen and gluten-free environments in commercial kitchens. She is certified to teach the program through Kitchens with Confidence, which is approved by the American Culinary Federation. Those who take her classes gain ACF credits while nutritionists gain similar credits from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Holland provides a free up-front review of a restaurant or kitchen's menu and invites the manager or owner of the establishment to eat at their own facility with her. This is done to demonstrate how limited the menu may be or how much goes into serving a food allergic person if they don't have a policy or plan.
Holland has a six-step process for working with commercial establishments:
  • Food Allergy Awareness & Sensitivity Training
  • Ingredient Analysis
  • Foodology & Smart Menu Design
  • Learning to Cook Allergy Friendly
  • Food Allergy Approval & Marketing
  • Follow Up
More information is available at ilaraholland.com.

It's important to have kitchens and staff certified to handle food allergens/intolerance and gluten across the world. There are over 150 Million people with food allergens and over 5 million with celiac disease (required to eat gluten free) worldwide. These diners bring along friends and family most of the time to share in their dining experiences. Having staff feel confident and knowledgeable about food allergies and gluten, provides a better dining experience for everyone and can increase customer loyalty and even revenue. In 2012, Gluten Free and Allergy Friendly Dining showed to be the fastest growing market in the food service industry according to forecast and trends.


  1. Thanks for sharing the post. This post shares some of the live examples where the testing is applied. These live examples are really helpful for sharing all the testing techniques on the live server or services. Really nice examples shared..

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  2. Updated Statistics show 15 million Americans are not diagnosed with food allergies (meaning they have been seen by an MD). The latest polls show there are so many people that realize they have a food allergen/intolerance that have not seen an MD- but just know they do, so they avoid certain foods. This number continues to rise. Usually allergens are to one or more of the Top 10 Food Allergens: (Fish, Shellfish, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Eggs, Dairy, Soy, Wheat, Sesame, Corn). The UK has 14 major allergens- mostly the same except celery, mustard, lupin and sulphur dioxide have been added to their list.

  3. I was seeing lots of food menu but this is one of the best, this blog is looking repository of food I am very happy to see your blog and its menu with information. I just appreciate you for that kind of effort. Thanks and share always new and delicious items.
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  4. When I was going for travel then I take apples, bananas, nuts and many more foods. I’d love for you to suggest healthy gluten-free convenience foods, like the snack bars. I like the Kind bars. Having to eat gluten-free has led to eating whole foods.
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  5. Many thanks again for a lovely evening. You and your staff were all so accommodating and helpful. The venue, atmosphere, music, good food and helpful staff all contributed to a splendid evening. We are on a daily basis still getting great feedback from many of the 500 clients who attended. Please convey our thanks and appreciation to each of your staff.
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  6. This is a very helpful list! It reminds me of the fish list (Seafood Watch) that the Monterrey Bay Aquarium puts out which has helped shape my consumption patterns. The fact that it was on a small fold-able wallet sized brochure helped too. franchisee inquiry | Order now


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