Betsy Craig: An Industry Pioneer in Food Allergy Training
Paul Antico (AllergyEats) and Betsy Craig (MenuTrinfo)
Betsy Craig has become a highly-respected, sought-after food industry trainer, successfully teaching leading restaurants, universities and chefs how to become more food allergy-friendly. Betsy, CEO/Co-Founder of MenuTrinfo – and its AllerTrain (TM) series of training programs – is committed to teaching restaurateurs and others within the food service industry more about food allergies and how to accommodate food-allergic patrons.
Betsy started MenuTrinfo in February, 2010 (ironically, the same month AllergyEats went live) to protect people’s lives and health through nutrition. Her motivation to start the company came from her own personal battle with systemic scleroderma, a rare autoimmune disease, and the health improvements that she credits to proper nutrition.
“One of the biggest discoveries that I made throughout my [personal health] journey is that what I eat makes a huge impact on my health. I started paying close attention to ingredient lists, and began to appreciate restaurants that paid the same level of attention to their menus. I started to think about food from a different perspective, and with my husband Rocky’s expert software engineering skills, we both set out to make the food industry better for people with specific dietary needs,” Betsy explained.
MenuTrinfo – which combines the words “menu,” “nutrition,” and “information” – started by providing detailed nutritional information about each of the items on restaurants’ menus.
Betsy and Rocky, who both have information technology backgrounds, worked together to develop cutting-edge software that’s uniquely able to identify food allergens in restaurant and other foodservice recipes and menus. Armed with this innovative software, Betsy began working with restaurants to identify allergens on their menu, drilling down to each component of every ingredient in every dish. Soon, she went a step further, committing to train food service industry professionals about food allergies and how to accommodate food-allergic guests. Thus, her food allergy training programs, under the AllerTrain label, were born.
Since its launch, AllerTrain has gained tremendous credibility and respect within the food service industry. The program, a complete training solution for food service professionals, educates restaurant staff about food allergies, providing actionable tips to prevent cross-contamination, improve communication, visually distinguish allergy-friendly meals and more.
“When I started AllerTrain, I discovered that restaurateurs didn’t know what they didn’t know. In other words, they didn’t realize the severity of food allergies or how to accommodate guests with them,” Betsy explained.
In November, 2011, she trained Planet Hollywood and their subsidiaries using the AllerTrain program. Shortly thereafter, she officially launched the AllerTrain course and went to the American Culinary Federation to ensure people could receive continuing education credits for participating in this program.
“I discovered that AllerTrain was just the first flavor. Colleges and universities had to look at their allergy protocols as well. They have to serve the same people day in and day out, and need to be able to accommodate food-allergic students,” Betsy explained. “Restaurants are a choice. College students don’t have a choice – they eat their meals in their campus cafeterias. I started AllerTrainU, bringing valuable training and protocols to college campuses nationwide.”
From there, Betsy developed AllerTrainK12, a training program for elementary, middle and high schools. She said this program solves a unique set of problems, allowing schools to more safely serve the growing number of food-allergic minors.
Another exciting addition to the AllerTrain family is AllerChef, which teachers chefs how to substitute ingredients to better accommodate food-allergic guests. Betsy developed this program in collaboration with Jules Sheppard (aka GF Jules), a nationally acclaimed expert who teaches people how to successfully cook allergy-friendly and gluten free items in commercial kitchens.
“GF Jules is experienced and knowledgeable about avoiding the Big 8 [allergens] in the back of the house to provide a better dining experience for food-allergic diners. We found that chefs didn’t necessarily know, for instance, when to use applesauce as a baking substitute, as so many moms do in their own home kitchens. This program teaches them how to utilize allergy-friendly substitutions in a commercial kitchen to accommodate guests with special dietary restrictions,” Betsy explained.
Also under the AllerTrain umbrella is AllerTrainLite, a 30-minute course aimed at the hourly worker in restaurants and schools. AllerTrainLite describes the basics of food allergies and how to accommodate guests with them, as well as what to do in an emergency. This short course gives hourly workers a basic understanding of the topic of food allergies, but doesn’t empower them to make key decisions when serving food-allergic diners. Betsy recommends that restaurants’ owners, managers and chefs – who have received more extensive food allergy training – should be the go-to people for food-allergic guests’ questions and concerns.
AllerTrain has become the leading training program in the industry, and while there are alternatives in the marketplace, AllerTrain is the most practical and easy to understand program available. All AllerTrain programming is taught live, either via live webinar or in person, by one of the company’s master trainers. The program is interactive, and participants are encouraged to ask questions. And the company has recently partnered with FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) with AllerTrainU as one of the very few food allergy training programs geared toward colleges and universities nationwide.
The company’s list of notable clients is large, impressive and growing. AllerTrain has worked with a variety of prestigious restaurants, including Clyde’s, Planet Hollywood, Glory Days Grill, Cattleman’s Steakhouse and more.
The roster of college campuses they’ve trained is similarly impressive, and includes Stanford University, Dartmouth University, Notre Dame, the University of Northern Colorado, among many others.
“Kitchen audits have spun out of our college training program,” Betsy explained. “University kitchens need a fresh set of eyes to go from loading dock to table top to ensure the entire process remains allergy-friendly. This is an exciting, new service that we’re providing.”
This year, MenuTrinfo and AllerTrain are going through what Betsy calls “some really cool evolutions.” Betsy has hired educational consultants to evaluate the educational components of the AllerTrain program.
“We’re shining a flashlight on AllerTrain from an educational standpoint. We’re revamping our tests, and the flow of every section, optimizing our programs not only for the best learning, but also to ensure the best retention. We’ll tighten up the course to make sure it’s the best it can be. And, as we do every year, we’ll make revisions to include the latest facts, legislation, etc., as it pertains to food allergies,” Betsy explained.
Betsy – a huge supporter of AllergyEats – is excited to present this October 21st at the 3rd Annual AllergyEats Food Allergy Conference for Restaurateurs & Food Service Professionals. [Registration currently underway.]
“I love the AllergyEats conference. It’s state-of-the-art, leading edge, and sets the bar so high. Attending the conference will bring food allergy education to the next level, providing additional information that you wouldn’t get through an AllerTrain class alone,” Betsy said. “In my session, I’ll share insights about things food service industry professionals can do to make an immediate difference in their restaurant or university. I’ll present at least 10 ideas and actionable tips that people can take away and implement that evening.”
While Betsy targets an industry audience, she has an important message for consumers as well.
“The biggest thing people can do is go to restaurants and universities and ask for their staff to get trained about food allergies,” Betsy said. “It’s only through a consumer push and a consumer ask that we’re going to see a bigger buy-in for food allergy training among restaurateurs and other food service personnel across the country. Keep carrying the food allergy flag.”
For more information about Betsy, MenuTrinfo and AllerTrain, visit www.menutrinfo.com.
And to rate your recent restaurant visits on their level of allergy-friendliness, please go to the core AllergyEats site (www.allergyeats.com) or app. Rating a restaurant takes just a minute, but helps our entire food allergy and intolerance community.