• The printable chef card template for people with food allergy. (Source: https://allergyfacts.org.au)
People with food allergies can use these chef cards, available in English and 21 other languages, to clearly communicate what they can and can't eat to hospitality staff and avoid any fatal misunderstandings.
Yasmin Noone

17 Jun 2019 - 2:14 PM  UPDATED 18 Jun 2019 - 11:44 AM

As any mother of a child with life-threatening food allergies may tell you, eating out at restaurants can prove a risky feat.

Sydney chef and former restaurant owner, Alex Herbert, has a 19-year-old son who developed food allergies when he was a baby.

Initially, he was highly allergic to eggs and peanuts. But he later developed allergies to tuna, lobster and other nuts.

“With my first son, who is now 24-years-old, we used to eat out all the time,” Herbert tells SBS. “But with my second son, we didn’t eat out 25 per cent as much because of his food allergies and my fear about the risk of him having an anaphylactic reaction.”

“It’s a real challenge for chefs…Mistakes can happen if they are under the pump or a diner’s allergy requirements are miscommunicated.”

Herbert says that, as a chef, she always ensured that meals for diners with food allergies were prepared correctly, with no risk of cross-contamination. However, she’s acutely aware that not all chefs are so diligent.

“It’s a real challenge for chefs…Mistakes can happen if they are under the pump or a diner’s allergy requirements are miscommunicated.”

In an effort to clearly communicate food allergy requirements to hospitality staff and prevent fatal mistakes from occurring, Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia (A&AA) have developed chef cards for people with food allergies.

The cards, which should be presented to waiters when they verbally disclose an allergy, include vital information about a diner’s food needs and clearly outlines the foods they must avoid.

Communicative cards

They carry the A&AA logo for credibility and contain the phrase ‘I have severe food allergy’ so that chefs take the matter seriously.

“Unlike verbal communication, when a card passes from a waiter to a server or chef, the information doesn’t change,” says Herbert, who was involved in providing feedback on the cards to A&AA. “It’s not reliant on one person talking and the other person listening. And the information doesn’t get communicated at one period of time.

“Unlike verbal communication, when a card passes from a waiter to a server or chef, the information doesn’t change.”

“For example, when a chef gets the card, they might be in the middle of sending food to a table or turning a chicken. But that card can sit there and wait for them until that right minute when they have the time to focus on reading what that card says. This is opposed to being [told about a food allergy] while they are distracted.”

Translated into 21 different languages

The free, downloadable cards are not new. However, A&AA tells SBS that many people do not know about them.

The organisation also reports that it released multilingual versions of the cards last week.

The chef cards have been translated into 21 languages: Arabic, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Croatian, Fijian, Filipino, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Thai and Vietnamese.

The translated cards include English and translated phrases, located side-by-side, describing the top 10 food allergens as well as common phrases like ‘I am having a severe allergic reaction’, written in the language of choice.

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The idea is that a person can download the translated version of the chef card as an editable PDF, and then cut and paste the translated phrases about their allergen(s) into the card using the translations provided by the organisation.

National Allergy Strategy Coordinator, Sandra Vale, tells SBS the cards were initially translated to help English speakers communicate their food needs when travelling to non-English speaking countries.

“Communicating your allergy, when there is a language barrier, is really challenging,” Vale tells SBS. “It can cause increased anxiety when you travel with a food allergy, particularly if you are travelling to countries where English is not the first language, even if English is your first language.

“But with these cards, you can take your allergy information, which has already been translated and hand it over to restaurant staff. So there’s less risk of miscommunication about the food allergy.”

“It contains information that can’t get lost in translation because it’s written down.”

The chef cards can assist people living in Australia from linguistically diverse backgrounds in translating their food allergy requirements from their language of choice into English. They can also be used by native English speakers when eating at restaurants hosted by culturally and linguistically diverse staff.

“I would encourage people with food allergies, or the parents of kids with food allergies to use these cards,” says Herbert. “It contains information that can’t get lost in translation because it’s written down.”

To find out more about the translatable chef cards, click here.

For more information about the chef cards or food allergies, contact Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia on 1300 728 000 or visit allergyfacts.org.au.

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