P.F. Chang’s China Bistro: A great place for food-allergic/gluten-intolerant diners to eat

[The following AllergyEats Blog post was written by Adrienne Walkowiak]

The staff at P.F. Chang’s China Bistro understands that food allergies and intolerances are becoming increasingly prevalent. In fact, they serve an average of 3,000 food allergic and gluten intolerant guests daily in their nationwide chain of restaurants.

“We know that food allergies are becoming more common, and we’re leading the charge to serve these guests,” said Chef Gregg Piazzi, of P.F. Chang’s China Bistro.

The popular Asian-style restaurant chain launched their gluten-free menu in 2001, and was one of the industry’s early adopters in accommodating gluten-free diners. Now, each of their 200 restaurants serves approximately 20 gluten-free meals daily.

“The leadership in our company is just so compassionate. They really get the challenges that people with food allergies and gluten intolerance face, and they believe it’s our responsibility to accommodate their needs,” Piazzi continued. “The Celiac and food allergy community has really embraced us for our efforts.”

P.F. Chang’s food allergy protocols start with their “incredible supply chain,” Piazzi explained. P.F. Chang’s serves 400 food items in their restaurants, and they always use the same vendors for their chili sauce, soy sauce and other ingredients. And they consistently work with the same two suppliers for all of their chicken, knowing that the product is fresh, and not injected or marinated.

Additionally, P.F. Chang’s has a nutritionist on staff, who analyzes every menu item for traces of food allergens.

The restaurant chain has implemented an innovative computer program that tracks diners’ allergies and determines which menu items are free of these ingredients. Staff members can input 15 different food allergens and the program sorts menu options that do not contain those allergy triggers. If a guest is allergic to shellfish, nuts and dairy, a staff member enters those multiple allergens into the computer and receives a printable list of menu options that the diner can comfortably eat. The staff member then prints out the modified menu and brings it directly to the food-allergic guest so they can select their meal.

P.F. Chang’s strives to proactively ask all guests if they have food allergies. If so, the server immediately informs the manager and kitchen staff about the food-allergic guest. The kitchen staff immediately pulls out clean utensils and cookware, as well as all new sauces, oils, aromatics and proteins to ensure there’s no cross-contamination with the food allergy trigger or triggers.

Since many Asian dishes typically contain peanuts and cashews, P.F. Chang’s has special policies in place for handling nuts and tree nuts. Though they buy nuts in 30 pound bulk boxes, the staff divides them into individual containers with tight-fitting plastic lids. These secure containers prevent peanuts from “floating around” and possibly falling into any other bins or containers. Additionally, the chain uses soybean oil – not peanut oil – for cooking.

“We take precautions to eliminate chances for cross contamination,” Piazzi continued. “We run drills all the time to ensure that our staff is used to – and familiar with – the procedures.”

“We make sure our servers are knowledgeable about food allergy issues. They need to be confident and sound confident to make our guests feel comfortable about dining here,” he added.

The restaurants place heavy emphasis on food-allergy training, making sure their entire staff is familiar with their food allergy procedures. Each restaurant regularly conducts “food allergy fire drills” that allow staff to practice their food allergy procedures. Because they serve so many food allergic customers – an average of 30 per day at each restaurant – they’re well-versed on the protocols, yet they’re constantly reinforcing the importance of this issue. They’re also careful to ensure consistent food allergy policies across all of their 200 restaurants.

Piazzi is proud to work for a company that’s so pro-active and conscientious about serving food allergic guests, and he encourages other restaurants to become more food-allergy friendly, as well.

His advice for other restaurants: use reliable food purchasing sources with clear, consistent labeling so you’re confident about every ingredient you serve. Don’t try to save a few dollars with a less expensive supplier – it’s worth the extra expense to be sure about your ingredients. He also believes that having a nutritionist on staff is hugely beneficial, in terms of analyzing dishes for allergen triggers.

Piazzi also emphasizes the importance of staff training. The entire restaurant staff needs to be knowledgeable about food allergies, familiar with internal systems and confident when speaking with guests.

Piazzi recognizes that working for a large, national chain like P.F. Chang’s has significant benefits, such as the budget to accommodate a staff nutritionist. Smaller, independent restaurants may have to overcome more challenges to becoming more food-allergy friendly, he explained. For instance, they don’t have the same buying power and volume as the big chains, and may not have the same relationships with reliable food suppliers. He does encourage restaurants of all sizes to implement food-allergy trainings, education and protocols to accommodate food allergic and gluten-intolerant guests.

“We’re in the business to please people,” Piazzi explained. “We all know people who are gluten-intolerant or have food allergies. “It’s our responsibility to push this movement along.”

Wow!  Are you as impressed as I am?  (Most of you must be – you’ve given P.F. Chang’s China Bistro a 4.4 out of 5.0 AllergyEats allergy-friendliness rating!)

So what jumps out at you?  What do you like best?  How have your experiences been at P.F. Chang’s?  Positive?  Negative?  We’d like to hear all your stories.  Please click Reply below and share your comments.

And please don’t forget to take a minute to rate any restaurants you’ve recently dined at on the main AllergyEats site at www.allergyeats.com.  Each rating increases the value of AllergyEats for our entire food allergy and intolerance community.

Comments

    Author:
    Ann Marie
    Written:


    I always feel completely safe eating there.

    Author:
    Bill Murphy
    Written:


    I can’t agree more. Any time I go to a PF Changs and I have been to several, I am more impressed at how knowledgeable and accomodating the staff is. I also have gotten take out several times and they make sure that you have all the GF sauces that you need. I also love the fact that they have their own plates for Gluten Free items so that you can feel safe that this food has been handled with care. This is a tough thing for someone with Celiacs as you are always worried about how you are going to feel the next morning. I have never have a worry at PF Changs. So bravo to them!!!

    Author:
    Angie
    Written:


    Soybean oil instead of peanut oil?!?! How awesome!! I’ve stayed away from Chinese food out of fear that there will peanuts in the food, and my daughter could have a reaction. Nice to know I can add a restaurant to our “allergy friendly restaurant” list, which only contains two restaurants! Way to go P.F. Chang’s!

    Author:
    Christy
    Written:


    PF Chang’s has become my favorite restaurant since I found out I’m gluten intolerant. They really go the extra mile, plus the food is always great. My biggest problem is getting in! There is usually at least a 2 hour wait even early in the evening. I guess I need to be better about making reservations. The only problem I have with the food is the gluten free soy sauce. It’s horrible! I wish they’d use Bragg’s or something. I’ve thought about bringing some with me. Other than that, the place is fantastic!

    Author:
    Amy
    Written:


    My peanut-allergic son has been begging me for chinese food which we never eat for fear of cross contamination. Now I have a treat for him! Thank you to P.F. Chang’s for taking food allergies so seriously!!!

    Author:
    Lee anne
    Written:


    My experience could not be more different.After reading positive comments about their allergy practices we decided to take my PA daughter there for dinner.I called twice and spoke extensively to the server when we arrived.I told her that absolutely no nuts or nut products were allowed at our table.I reiterated that if the dish called for any kind of nut they were to leave them off.she assured me that all the food would be safe and it would not be a problem.They ended up bringing four dishes with nuts,two with peanuts.I am very fortunate that I saw them as the restaurant was very dark.we left the table and asked for a manager…..I asked to speak to the manager three times to no avail.This was hands down the worst dining experience we have ever had with my daughter.the servers and management were completely dismissive and unconcerned that she was distraught.I will never return!

    Author:
    Alice
    Written:


    What about soy? Do they have soy free dishes?

    Author:
    Roseann
    Written:


    Unless you’re allergic to sesame, then there’s about 3 things on the menu you can eat. Those 3 items are delicious though.

    Author:
    Barbara Kirch
    Written:


    Our P F Chang’s has been extremely careful to make sure that my meals are gluten-free, and it is a favorite “outing” where I can feel safe.

    Author:
    michabu
    Written:


    I went to PF Chang’s and agree with most of the comments. I was, however, confused by the way their differentiate between soy and soybean. When I questioned the difference they explained that if I had an allergy to soy i pretty much could not eat anything in the restaurant but they had a separate menu for soybean. I was asking for my son who was not with us and has never eaten at an asian restaurant due to his extensive food allergies.
    I guess I still need to understand the difference between soy and soybean.

    Author:
    Jessie
    Written:


    We’ve never gone because we always assume peanut contamination at Asian restaurants. I’m so excited and look forward to taking our son there!

    Author:
    Marilyn
    Written:


    I am lactose intolerant and have had reactions every time I have eaten at this restaurant. I finally discovered, not by the restaurant but by reading a milk free website, that the restaurant uses milk protein in their pans before cooking. I have not been back to P.F. Changs since, but after reading this I may go back to see if they can cook a meal for me without using the milk protein.

    Author:
    Belinda
    Written:


    The Orland Park, IL location was great. They took the time to “enter” us into the computer. Then provided us with a “nut free” computer printed menu listing all of the foods my son could eat. Thanks!

    Author:
    Dave
    Written:


    My wife breaks out in hives for at least a week EVERY TIME she eats there no matter what she has orders. We have not been able to figure out what is the trigger is.

    Author:
    Cryssi
    Written:


    Anyone have a PF Chang experience with a shellfish allergy? I am so hesitant to try new places, but this sounds like it might be safe…

      Author:
      AEPaul
      Written:


      Hi Cryssi –
      Not having experience with a shellfish allergy, all I would add is that the chain rating for P.F. Chang’s from those with a shellfish allergy is in-line with its overall rating of 4.5, which is excellent. But of course, ALWAYS bring your Epi and ALWAYS keep your guard up and ask questions. And I want to stress as always that there are NO guarantees, but P.F. Chang’s is one of the best in general.
      Good luck! Let us know how it goes (here and with a rating on the core site).
      Paul

    Author:
    Chandra
    Written:


    I had a horrible experience at the P.F.Chang branch in Tulsa. I explained that I have peanut and egg allergy. The waiter excused himself immediately, brought the manager over who grabbed my arm and escorted my outside. Once outside, he explained that there are too many peanuts in the building. He was afraid for my safety and all the chicken dishes are marinaded in an egg mixture, soory for my trouble, go some where else.
    Needless to say, I beleive nothing about there allergy-free policy. I tell everyone what a terrible experience it was.

    Author:
    Abe
    Written:


    So I really want to try new food espically Asian food. However i have this annoying egg allergy that makes me double think about asian food. Any egg free food at pf changs?

      Author:
      AEPaul
      Written:


      Abe – I can’t quote their menu off the top of my head, but there is a link next to any P.F. Chang’s listing within the AllergyEats database (i.e. if you run a search that includes P.F. Chang’s in the results, there will be a link to their menu in the right hand column). P.F. Chang’s did receive one of the top 5 most allergy-friendly restaurant chains in America with an excellent 4.45 rating out of 5.0. Their rating from those with egg allergies was the worst of all Top 8+ allergies at 3.95, but that still suggests that they CAN accommodate individuals with egg allergies. You can consider calling them in advance – all the phone #’s are listed on the AllergyEats site and you can dial them with one touch from a smartphone. Overall, P.F. Chang’s is very allergy-friendly and should be able to find a way to accommodate you regardless of your individuals allergy(-ies).

    Author:
    Nick
    Written:


    Soy free?!?! Looks like I would rate PF Changs a 0.

    Author:
    Robot wife
    Written:


    I just ate at the Austin, TX location. I have a severe egg allergy, a new chicken allergy, and a long standing milk intolerance. The waitress was very helpful in that she put my allergies into the computer and brought me out a print out of what I could eat. She also explained that all of their beef, chicken and seafood is marinated in egg. They could make chicken without the egg marinade, but I’m allergic to chicken.

    I think the staff here is trained to take allergies seriously, but this is not an allergen friendly restaurant because the majority of their menu contains the top food allergens.

    The print out list she gave me was laughable–my only options besides plain green salads, steamed vegetables, steamed rice, and a few sauces were the vegetarian or pork potstickers.

    I ordered the pork potstickers steamed instead of pan fried for fear all of their pans had once touched egg. They were delicious and I didn’t have any gastrointestinal issues afterwards, which is what usually happens if I come into contact with egg, chicken or dairy.

    I was so disappointed that I couldn’t have any of the beef dishes but relieved I found out about the egg issues before ordering. Phew.

    Good luck, diners.

    Author:
    Ramona McDais
    Written:


    Most reviews I read here were glowing positive; but several were not. It only takes one mistake (i.e., like the person who reported that, in spite of alerting the restaurant to PA, several dishes with nuts, including peanuts, were brought to their table), I will definitely continue to PASS ON ASIAN RESTAURANTS. It seems that since this one is a chain, although the top management sincerely intends to help the allergic individuals, a chain involves multiple locations, therefore multiple middle-managers and staff, and no mater how good the intentions of upper-management are, the importance of the allergy issue does not always trickle down. Therefore, this still leaves the trusting consumer playing Russian Roulette as to which restaurants in the chain “get it” and which do not. So, I will still have to pass on this and all Asian restaurants.

    Author:
    N. Fields
    Written:


    Yes I have dined at pf changs three times and all three times my entire body broke out in hives. Very ichty, uncomfortable, and red. I am not allergic to anything so would love to know what it is at this particular restaurant that’s causing this.

    Author:
    anne
    Written:


    I have been to pf Chang’s twice in 2014. Once in March and once last week (Dec). Both times I broke out in ichy hives all over my body.I also have zero known allergies so I have no idea what this is all about, but I definitely do not think its a coincidence. I will never be dining at pf Chang’s again.

    Author:
    Amy
    Written:


    My 10 yr old TN, SF, Egg allergic daughter has been begging for Chinese food. After reading this and another couple good reviews of PF Changs we decided to give it a try tonight. Sadly, our experience was disappointing. Our waitress quickly came back with the computer list produced with our allergens excluded. I did find this helpful but sadly, the only choice she had besides rice was either stir-fry tofu or grilled salmon. It was laughable. I couldn’t believe that there was nothing on the menu that could have been modified for her to eat but our waitress said that all the beef and chicken is marinated in a sauce that includes oyster sauce. Sadly, we paid for our drinks and left. I can not comment on their actual ability to provide a safe meal but I was disappointed at her options. I guess I had my hopes too high. It seems that they can provide something for you if you have a simpler allergen list that at least does not include shell fish.

    Author:
    imei
    Written:


    This article seriously should be updated.

    While PF Chang’s continues to use its tracking program to help customers with food allergies determine what is safe to eat, I was shocked to find out that all of their meat and seafood is now pre-marinated not just in soy sauce, but in milk.

    After going through their safe eating computer list, it was determined that I could only eat four dishes, two of which had tofu. I mentioned I couldn’t have soy as well as gluten in soy sauce, so that took two more dishes away. I decided not to eat there, as eating a bowl of rice and plain dish of vegetables did not sound appealing.

    Pre-marinating meats and seafoods with soy sauce doesn’t seem to be a very allergen-friendly approach, in my opinion.

    Author:
    kevin
    Written:


    This is great that they cater to peanut allergies. But the massive gluten free options are crazy when very few people are allergic to gluten. The use of soybean oil keeps a lot of people away from the restraint. Soy allergies are
    devastating to many more people than Collins disease. Too bad they do not use healthier oil like canola.

    Author:
    kevin
    Written:


    Correction to the auto correct on my phone. Celiac disease.

    Author:
    Marly L. Matanis
    Written:


    My husband has eaten at pf Chang’s three times and each time a couple days later breaks out in hives all over his body. He doesn’t have an allergies so we are trying to figure out what it could be.

    Author:
    Amy Roller
    Written:


    I have eaten at PF Changs twice since January and broke out in horrible itchy hives both times. So bad that I can’t sleep because the itching is so severe. My doctor suggested I take food samples from the restaurant to the allergist for testing, has anyone ever done this?

    Author:
    Ron
    Written:


    My wife and I have been eating at PF Chang’s for more than 10 years now. But recent two times, my wife has gotten hives all over her body. We have not been able to figure out the reason yet. She ordered Coconut Curry Vegetables Stir fry both times, which is supposed to be Gluten free.

    She is Gluten and Lactose intolerant, but never had issues earlier than these two times.

    Author:
    G
    Written:


    Just ate at PF Chang’s for the first time and ordered the Korean BBQ Chicken Stir Fry. I broke out that night and worse the next day all over my legs, then my whole body. I still get flare ups two days later. I am also not allergic to anything. The itching is unbearable and Benadryl is not helping.

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