Food allergies across the globe continue to increase in number. According to a study released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased approximately 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. This potentially deadly disease affects 1 in every 13 children (under 18 years of age) in the US. That’s roughly two in every classroom.
Some common allergy-causing foods (i.e., fish, shellfish, peanuts, or tree nuts) are easy to avoid when cooking from scratch. Other common allergens will require an ingredient substitution.
If you are avoiding milk, you may be able to tolerate a milk alternative, such as those made from soy, rice, or coconut, which can be substituted in equal amounts.
There are commercial powders that will replace eggs when baking from scratch, and others have had success with replacing each egg in a recipe with 1 packet gelatin mixed into 2 tablespoons of warm water.
Baking without wheat is particularly challenging, since no single flour will produce the same results in a baked good as standard wheat-based flour. A combination of flours made from rice, potato starch, tapioca often works best. You may need to experiment to find the combination that works best in your recipe. There are also several commercial wheat-free flour mixes available on the market that are convenient and work well in a multitude of recipes.
Cross-contact occurs when proteins from two or more different foods mix because they have come into contact with one another. When preparing allergy-free foods, clean all equipment, utensils, and surfaces prior to their use with hot, soapy water.
Set up your kitchen, freezer and dry storage so that it is allergy-friendly. For example, designate special shelves in the dry storage area and freezer where allergy-friendly products, such as specialty flour blends or powdered egg replacer mixes, are kept.
Once you’ve perfected your allergy free formulas, promote them accordingly. Let your existing, regular customers know that offer products for food allergy sufferers. This will get the word out from customers who already believe your items are superior. These shoppers will not only spread the word, but also give your entire bakery positive promotion.
Reach out to new customers looking for allergy free products as well. If you have an email list, send an e-blast promoting these new products. If you don’t have an email list, start asking all customers for an email address, but be careful. Many shoppers hesitate to give out email addresses for fear of spam. If you encounter this type of customer try to gauge whether or not they’ll be receptive to an explanation. If it seems they will not, let it go with a smile and thank them for their business.