Disney World Food Allergy Pioneer Trains Chefs on Becoming Allergy-Friendly


Allergy Chefs Joel Schaefer Partners with Allergy EatsRespected food allergy advocate Joel Schaefer, CCC, CHT, an author, chef and educator, has made it his mission to help restaurants become more allergy-friendly. Schaefer, who has a dairy intolerance himself, is the founder of Allergy Chefs (www.allergychefs.com), author of Serving People with Food Allergies: Kitchen Management & Menu Creation, and the former Culinary Development and Special Dietary Needs Manager at Walt Disney World. Throughout his career, he has specialized in culinary education and product development for food allergies and special diets.

At Walt Disney World, Schaefer began his career as a chef and moved up the ranks to oversee special dietary protocols in all of Disney World’s restaurants. In that role, he spearheaded Disney’s groundbreaking food allergy initiatives and ensured that all of their restaurants could better accommodate food-allergic guests. He recognized that Disney restaurants all strived to meet guests’ needs, but each restaurant handled food allergies differently, and each had its own food allergy procedures.

Schaefer streamlined Disney’s food allergy protocols to create a more consistent system and ensure that every Disney restaurant followed specific company procedures.  As a result, Disney World’s various restaurants and hotels are widely considered the “gold standard” in serving food-allergic guests, allowing families with food allergies to truly enjoy the happiest place on earth.

Collaborating closely with Disney’s food safety department, procurement team, legal team, restaurant chefs and managers, Chef Joel trained Disney’s chefs, managers, cooks and servers on food allergy procedures.  Additionally, he examined the various products they were using, checking to see which were free of the “Big 8″ allergens.  During this process, he asked for guest feedback, wanting to know which brands and products food-allergic guests used themselves.

“Disney guests have many different food allergies, so I had to find pancake mix, breads, beverages and other products that were free of common allergens, to serve to guests with various – and often multiple – allergies,” Chef Joel explained.  The chefs at Disney World were also able to accommodate less common food allergies (besides the “Big 8″), creating customized meals without any of the guests’ “trigger foods”.

“We also designated special equipment for food allergic guests – separate griddles, waffle irons, etc. – and trained the entire staff on how to avoid cross-contact,” Chef Joel continued.

Schaefer, whose motto is “keep the food simple to keep the guests safe,” is pleased to see the restaurant industry making huge advances in accommodating food allergies.  He’s seen a big effort among restaurants recently, with more establishments implementing gluten free menus, providing allergen information, avoiding cross-contact and becoming more knowledgeable about food allergies and special diets.

While the progress has been positive, he acknowledges that restaurants don’t follow a consistent set of food allergy protocols and procedures, so it can still be “hit or miss” to find accommodating – and properly trained – establishments.  Therefore, he has endorsed – and partnered with – AllergyEats (www.allergyeats.com), the most comprehensive source for finding food allergy-friendly restaurants.  AllergyEats provides valuable, peer-based ratings and feedback about how well (or poorly) restaurants accommodate food-allergic customers, so the food allergy community can make more informed decisions about where to dine (and which establishments to avoid).

Schaefer and AllergyEats are similarly focused on promoting food allergy education, training and food handling protocols among restaurants. Schaefer calls AllergyEats a “wonderful resource” that helps food-allergic diners find the most accommodating establishments – and avoid restaurants that do not handle food allergies well.

He’s also enthusiastic about the new AllergyEats Disney World microsite (www.allergyeats.com/disney), which rates restaurants in and around the Disney World theme parks, based on their level of allergy-friendliness.

“As someone who advocates for increased allergy training and education myself, I’m pleased to partner with Chef Schaefer, who shares a similar mission and vision,” said Paul Antico, Founder of AllergyEats, food allergy advocate and father of three food-allergic children.  “Together, we’re striving to make it safer for food-allergic people to eat out – one meal at a time.”

Schaefer’s recently released book, Serving People with Food Allergies: Kitchen Management & Menu Creation, spotlights his extensive experience and knowledge.  The book explains the basics of food allergies and special diets and also covers training and recipe development.

For more information on Chef Joel Schaefer, visit www.allergychefs.com.

This article was shared with us by Adrienne Walkowiak of AllergyEats. To see pier-based food allergy reviews and information on more than 600,000 restaurants nationwide, visit www.allergyeats.com.

About Author

Alisa is the founder of GoDairyFree.org, Senior Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.