The Allergy Chef Interview: Taking Control of Food Allergies
Tell us a little about how you got started. What is your origin story?
Our origin story is similar to many food allergy families that start a business to help others. We were living the life, day in, day out. It was exhausting as we were creating resources for ourselves because they didn’t exist elsewhere. After my health took a turn for the worse (I was given 30 days to live), I survived, and we decided to launch Free and Friendly Foods. Our mission has always been to help others, and to get all the information that’s in my head “out there” for others to benefit from. You can read our full story here: http://freeandfriendlyfoods.com/pages/our-story
How can folks buy your products?
People can purchase our bakery items in San Bruno, California. We have a fully licensed Cottage Kitchen where we sell our baked goods. People can purchase our cookbooks, eBooks, and RAISE Membership online (freeandfriendlyfoods.com)
Do you personally have any food allergies or intolerances?
I personally have over 200 food allergies and intolerances, and as well as contact and airborne allergic. Several of my allergies are life threatening, and I can’t drink most water.
Tell us about one of your favorite products that you make and why
One of my favorite products to make would have to be anything that’s a free-from accomplishment. For example, our gravity cake, or our recent corn free/grain free/top 8 free (and more) mini cupcakes. For me, anything that’s new and different that helps the minority is exciting.
What does it take to keep your facility free-from?
Keeping our facility free-from means keeping allergens out of the kitchen. We have a separate preparation area in our home (as well as cooking appliances) that handles allergens, outside of the main kitchen.
What are some of the hidden challenges of maintaining a dedicated free-from facility?
The biggest hidden challenge of maintaining a free-from kitchen would have to be the sourcing of raw materials. Manufactures don’t have to write us a letter if they change something on their end. Sourcing raw materials that come from gluten free and top 8 free facilities is a lot harder than you’d think, and also very expensive. We’ve come to understand why there aren’t too many places out there doing what we do.
Are there different challenges to baking gluten-free versus other free-from baking?
Honestly, I can’t answer this question because I don’t have a point of reference. By the time we got into serious baking, we knew one of our kids had a wheat allergy. I’m also the same with dairy. I have very little points of reference, as we don’t use it (for scratch recipes) because one of our kids is severely allergic.
How do you train your staff in food allergy protocols? What advice would you give to other facilities?
Our staff is our family, and the training has come naturally, as they’ve lived the life first hand for over a decade. Everyone has done food safety training, which overlaps a bit with food allergies. For other facilities, I would advise that they have all of their current and new hires take a course on food allergies, which are available online for food service. From there, have a consultant come in quarterly for refresher information and to do a site-check is very beneficial. Finally, I would encourage them to be honest with their customers. Don’t make a promise you can’t keep, as cross-contamination is a huge issue.
What’s your top 3 tips for someone who wants to start baking free-from at home?
My top 3 tips for baking free-from at home:
- Find a trusted blogger or cookbook.
- Purchase the same brands of materials they use, as this is one of the biggest issues in free-from baking
- Follow the instructions precisely the first few times you make their recipes before trying your own thing.
As a dedicated GF facility – what is your take on actions companies should take when they need to recall a product due to undeclared allergens?
As a dedicated facility, nothing breaks my heart more than cross-contamination. When I look at the food industry in its current state, I see chaos and potential danger for consumers with food allergies. The first thing I would love to see is a mandate that companies disclose on packages and their websites shared equipment, shared facilities, and processing aids. They need to start making it easier for consumers to make an informed decision. While I teach people that calling is the only truly safe option, undeclared allergens are still going to be an issue, even when you call. Companies need to make sure they’re working with influencers, bloggers, support group leaders, and others along those lines. People with food allergies may not hear about the recalls through traditional means, but may find out through trusted bloggers and friends.
However, the responsibility can’t be totally on the companies. I strongly feel that those of us with severe food allergies need to start supporting companies that are committed to our safety. Buying products that are top 8 free from a top 8 free facility is one easy way to ensure you won’t be a victim to undeclared allergens. Also, make food at home. It’s less expensive, and infinitely more safe.