T.O. cooking school teachers preach nut-free food prep


In the kitchen at the Learning Enrichment Foundation in Toronto, chefs Daniel Labelle and Tony Fuard pay special attention to one rule. That rule, absolutely no peanuts.

Fuard and Labelle prepare more than 1,000 meals daily for staff at the LEF, children in child care programs, after school programs, soup kitchens, shelters and retirement homes across the GTA, making sure every one of them is free of nuts. The nut-free kitchen is essential for them because they have seen the deadly effects of peanut allergies, and wish their colleagues would be as careful.

“As licensed chefs, we should assume the responsibility and see to it that we follow the trends,” Labelle says. “There’s more people with allergies and we have to be professional enough to adapt and cater to everyone and see to it that everyone has a good meal.”

Peanut allergies exist in roughly one to 1.5 per cent of the population and are very closely associated with severe reactions and deaths, says president of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and professor of immunology at McMaster University, Susan Waserman.

“Most of the deaths we see from food related allergies are from peanuts,” she said. “It’s hidden in so many things, that it’s most often ingested accidentally.”

She says the potent protein contained in peanuts is not easily destroyed through processing, and due to it’s sticky texture can be easily transmitted when it comes into contact with hands, knives or other objects.

For people like Torontonian Stephanie Lachapelle, living with the allergy can be quite a nuisance. She has to be very careful when it comes to eating, and has been hospitalized in the past when she was misinformed. She was rushed to the hospital last summer after eating a cookie that contained nuts.

“Someone said there wasn’t nuts in (the cookie) but there was,” Lachapelle recalls.

Lachapelle says she isn’t overly concerned about whether or not she is eating food from a kitchen using peanuts, but wants to know exactly what is in her dish.

Labelle understands people with allergies have to be responsible for themselves, but at the same time he thinks those with the ability to make it safer for people should help out. This is why he doesn’t cook with peanuts in his kitchen or teach his 10 students recipes with containing peanuts.

“There are safe alternatives,” he says. “Almost any recipe that has nuts, the nuts can be substituted or eliminated and it won’t affect the recipe that much.”

He says adding dried fruits, raisins or currents in place of peanuts are suitable options that provide great taste.

He also teaches his students to inquire about their customers food allergies so alternatives can be prepared.

Spreading awareness is key, says Waserman, because the allergy is on the rise and it not only affects those with it, but also the community. Avoidance is the key.

Nut-free cooking tips

• Prevent cross contamination in your kitchen by segregating your equipment.

• Keep as much distance between your peanuts and your other ingredients, as well as keeping distance between the utensils you commonly contact with peanuts and those you don’t.

• With any utensil used with nuts, be sure they get in to the dishwasher as quickly as possible after use. Also remember to wash, rinse and sanitize countertops or any other surface that came into contact with the nuts, or was in close vicinity. One should also dispose of the rags used to clean the tops instead of re-using them.

• Also, it is important to change your apron after working with nuts, and get it to the laundry as quickly as you can to avoid transmission. Wearing disposable gloves is also a good idea because it eliminates the risk of transmission by contact, as well has having to remember to wash your hands before touching further ingredients for a different dish.

Peanut-free granola

  • There’s a new sub-line of Quaker Chewy granola bars “Made in a Peanut-free Facility” now available across Canada (Chocolate Chip, Rocky Road, S’mores, Bumble Berry, Banana Delight, Apple Fruit Crumble and Raspberry Fruit Crumble).