Tucson restaurant owner takes food allergy fight personally - Tucson News Now

Tucson restaurant owner takes food allergy fight personally

Eric Wolf's sons have Celiac Disease (gluten) so he takes food allergy fight personally: "We're going to do it the right way". (Source: Tucson News Now) Eric Wolf's sons have Celiac Disease (gluten) so he takes food allergy fight personally: "We're going to do it the right way". (Source: Tucson News Now)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

In each smash of the burger patty there's a sense of satisfaction, a well-informed staff, and an owner wanting to get down to the nitty gritty details.

"I wanted to have a brand that I could feel good about having my friends and family in," said Eric Wolf, who owns four Smashburger restaurants in the Tucson area.

Because to Wolf, each ingredient is a matter of life and death when it comes to his family.

"Well, I'll tell you, it was challenging. Prior to my sons being diagnosed with Celiac Disease, I really didn't have to pay much attention to it. We were like any other family," Wolf said.

His sons are now 24 and 25 years old, but were diagnosed around 10 years ago. Celiac Disease is a serious genetic autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.

But the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said the Wolf family is not alone. In fact, researchers say about 15 million Americans have food allergies.

According to a new CDC study, restaurants could be doing a lot more to help protect customers. They estimate those 15 million Americans make about 30,000 emergency room visits every year due to food allergies, and result in about 150-200 deaths.

The CDC survey found that most establishments list their ingredients or recipes that could be problematic, and they have that information readily available to customers.

To avoid this, Wolf revels in making sure his customers know what allergenic ingredients could be found on his menu. His stores have separate preparation stations for breaded products, and specifically cooks those breaded products in only one of his fryers.

The CDC study found that most restaurants did not do this, and did not have dedicated areas for cooking allergen-free food.

"I think what we've done is provided [employees] with the tools, at their fingertips, so that they can answer people's questions rather quickly," Wolf said. "We can't say that we provide foods that are 100 percent gluten free, but we can do our best to serve a product that's not cross-contaminated."

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America reports that children have food allergies more often than adults, and that eight foods cause most food allergy reactions: milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish.

But the CDC study revealed that less than half of the restaurant staff interviewed had training on those allergies, and did not learn what to do in the case of a reaction. They recommend improved staff training, so employees can know what to do when danger strikes.

Wolf said he understands the importance. "Sometimes it takes us a couple extra minutes, because we're going to do it the right way."

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