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The Ultimate Guide to Dietary Requirements for Office Catering

Volkan Demircan .

When ordering catering for a group of people, it can be more complicated than you think to deal with everyone's dietary requirements. You know gluten-free means no bread but no soy sauce?

When dealing with a team that isn't static in its choices or numbers, keeping up with dietary restrictions that aren't always yours can be challenging.

Our goal at eCater is to ensure everyone has access to the food that makes them feel great. So we've put together a handy guide to help caterers avoid pitfalls and choose safe options when catering for dietary needs like intolerances and allergies.

Many dairy products, including milk, yogurt, cream, butter, and cheese, have been made from cow's milk. About 65% of the global population has a lactose intolerance past infancy, which makes processing them difficult. From lactose intolerance to dairy allergy, many people avoid dairy products for various reasons, from simply avoiding cow's milk and preferring a plant-based alternative to cow's milk. In the case of lactose intolerance, the body cannot digest an enzyme (lactase) found in dairy products. At the same time, whey, casein, and albumin are common proteins in dairy products that cause dairy allergies.

As dairy consumption can result in varying levels of severity, it's essential to discuss the specifics of people's dietary needs surrounding dairy. Gastrointestinal issues usually accompany lactose intolerance in some people, but dairy allergies are often autoimmune diseases that can lead to fatal anaphylactic reactions.

Avoid these items

Milk from animals
In Australia, cow milk is the most common type of milk, but people who are dairy free may also react to goat milk, sheep milk, and any other animal milk. The milk of goat is rarely found on the menu, but it is frequently found in cheeses, many of which aren't suitable for a dairy-free diet.

Lactose-free products
Despite being suitable for people with lactose intolerance issues, lactose-free products aren't suitable for those with dairy allergies since they are made from cow's milk with an enzyme added to circumvent the effects of lactose.

Proteins and milk powders
Milk Powder is often found in items you might assume to be dairy-free. For instance, it is used for thickening gravy mixes, sauces, and flavouring crisps. Pay close attention to labels if you're catering for someone with a dairy allergy.

Several items are known to contain milk proteins as fillers and extenders, including canned tuna, hot dogs, salami, and sausages. Unexpected milk proteins can also trigger a dairy allergy in meats. A communication relationship with your catering service and vendors is always the best way to ensure that you know where dairy might get in and how to avoid it if you have a dairy allergy.

The protein gluten occurs naturally in wheat, barley, rye, and other grains. Since grains such as wheat and wheat products have been a staple crop for centuries, gluten-free eating can be a problematic dietary restriction to address. 15% of the world's caloric intake comes solely from wheat. Due to its excellent binding abilities and ability to add protein, shape and texture, gluten is often found in other foods, so you should be aware that there are plenty of hidden sources of gluten.

Comparison of gluten-free vs. celiac disease
There are different levels of gluten restrictions, much like there are between lactose intolerance and dairy allergy.

Gluten intolerance is when someone has difficulty digesting gluten, often resulting in gastrointestinal problems that can be as bad as food poisoning. Knowing about individuals' gluten sensitivity levels when you cater for them is essential because there are naturally different levels.

The gastrointestinal reactions of celiac disease are similar to those of gluten sensitivity. It is an autoimmune disease caused by proteins that impact the stomach lining and small intestine. Celiac disease can have much longer-term consequences with long-lasting rashes and insomnia than gluten intolerance. In the long-term, celiac disease is more severe than gluten intolerance since gluten is cumulative. Despite eating small amounts of gluten, it adds up in the body and damages the small intestine villi deeply.

Gluten-free diet
The most common form of gluten is in products made from flour, including cakes, bread, cookies, pastries, biscuits, crackers, and pasta. Any flour product also contains gluten, which unfortunately takes away a lot of food. Over the past decade, the availability of flour alternatives such as almond flour has increased dramatically, and gluten-free baking has developed tremendously. Therefore, gluten-free eaters no longer have to avoid many of these foods but should always consume gluten-free foods labelled as such.

Avoid these items

Soy Sauce
People with celiac are recommended to avoid soy sauce because wheat is one of its primary ingredients. People with mild gluten intolerances can occasionally consume soy sauce since it has only minimal amounts of gluten and is consumed in smaller amounts. Double-checking whether soy sauce is used in marinades or sauces is always a good idea when catering to gluten-free people.

Since tamari is gluten-free, it's an excellent option for those who love soy sauce, as it comes from fermented soybeans. While tamari is similar to soy sauce, it's a darker colour and has a less salty taste.

It's no surprise that beer, basically liquid bread, is a no-go for people to avoid gluten since grains are a vital ingredient in brewing beer, and the most commonly used grains are barley, rye and wheat. The amount of gluten in beer varies depending on brewing methods and ingredients and the type of beer you choose. The gluten in ale is about ten times higher than that in a stout beer, so it's difficult to predict its impact. Gluten intolerants should avoid drinks such as beer. Instead, try gluten-free beer or scotch; bourbon and grain vodka can also cause problems.

Imitation Meat
The purpose of many imitation types of meat is to recreate the texture and shape of meat by utilising gluten. Gluten is crucial in anything made from seitan, gluten-free flour that is washed and kneaded to extract its pure gluten. Gluten-free people shouldn't eat this.

It is possible to find gluten-free, vegetarian options if you look for imitation meats that are based on vegetables, and many of the brands available in Australia are already gluten-free. There is no rule against imitation meat, but you need to double-check when it comes to them.

Among the things to watch out for are instant coffee, cornstarch, curry powders, hot chocolate, baking powder, food colourings, and stock cubes. It is not technically part of a sauce or soup to use flour, but it is often used as a thickening agent, which can pose a problem for gluten intolerant people.

Common food allergies
It is estimated that nine out of ten allergies can be traced back to just eight foods, so caterers should be careful when catering to large groups of people. Keeping dairy and wheat out as dietary restrictions is already discussed, but we have listed the other significant players. Hence, you know what to look for and what questions your caterer should answer.

Nut allergies are among the most common allergies in the world. There are several types of nuts that trigger nut allergies, and these include almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and pine nuts, among them. It is common for these nuts to be hidden in gluten-free cakes and other baking products that use almond flour as a flour substitute. Providing healthy snacks like protein bars, granola, trail mix and flavoured coffee can cause allergies to nuts in office catering. It is unnecessary to have a tree nut allergy to peanuts – legumes rather than nuts – but it increases your chances. As a binding agent, nut butter is often used to bind together dipping sauces, chocolate bars, and granola bars, which are hidden sources of peanuts.

A finned fish allergy and a shellfish allergy are two completely different allergens. Still, they are both common allergies, and about half of the people allergic to one will also be allergic to the other. As about 40% of people with fish allergies experience them for the first time as adults, they can be challenging to deal with. Seafood can contain cross-contamination, so it's always a good idea to check even if you're not allergic to both.

A variety of unexpected sources of fish include:

  • Barbecue sauce.
  • Worcestershire sauce. Caesar salads (because the dressing includes anchovies).
  • Vietnamese dipping sauces like Nuoc Cham and Kim Chi.

If you avoid fish, you might be unable to eat sushi because imitation fish such as crab meat contains surimi, a paste made from fish and other agents. Even though vegetarian sushi exists, cross-contamination is a very high risk, so you should avoid it or ask your caterer how they avoid contamination in the kitchen.

Children are more likely to suffer from soy allergies than adults, but they can develop at any age and arise from eating foods previously consumed without causing problems. Chickpeas, peanuts, lentils, kidney beans, and other legumes make up the legume family, along with soybeans. In contrast to peanut allergy cases, which are rare, soy allergies are more common among those with all major allergens, and those with peanut allergies are usually less prone to having soy allergies.

Asian cuisines often contain soy, so they may not be a great choice if you have a soy allergy. The most common foods that contain soy include miso soup, tempeh, edamame (soybeans in pods), soy sauce, and tofu, all of which are entirely made from soy. The soy protein, soy flour and many other forms can be used in different forms, which can be a common hidden ingredient in various foods, so labelling is crucial.

It is estimated that 70% of children with an egg allergy will outgrow the allergy by 17, making it the second most common allergy in young children. In both cases, it's nearly impossible to avoid cross-contamination, so you should avoid eggs altogether. As eggs are used in many foods, even foods labelled as egg-free can contain egg proteins.

Bakery goods, breakfast foods, marshmallows, frosting, marzipans, puddings, and custard are all to avoid, as well as baked goods, breakfast foods, marshmallows, frosting, marzipans and custards. Many sauces, salad dressings, and breaded foods are flavoured with mayo, which is often made with eggs. Some kinds of pasta and noodles contain eggs, so be sure to double-check.

There is only one dietary rule vegetarians follow - no meat.

Around 12.1% of Australia's population is strictly vegetarian. Due to increased access to high-quality meat substitutes and better planning of vegetarian meals, this is one dietary restriction that is becoming increasingly easy to accommodate. The data suggests that the younger you are, the more likely you are to be a vegetarian.

Many people choose to be vegetarians for various reasons, whether to save the environment or adhere to their religious beliefs. If you are catering for a group that includes vegetarians. In that case, you should offer several options, especially since many people who don't identify as vegetarians still regularly eat and enjoy vegetarian food.

The diets of vegans and vegetarians are similar and frequently adopted for the same reasons; however, catering to vegans can be a bit more challenging. Veganism involves avoiding all animal products and by-products in addition to eschewing meat. There are obvious things like meat and animal flesh, regardless of how they were kept, milk and honey, as well as cheese and butter that have been derived from animals.

It's always best to double-check labelling when buying items that initially appear vegan since animal by-products are often hidden inside. As gelatine is derived from collagen from cow or pig bones, sweets like marshmallows and starburst are not vegan and contain gelatine. The dye carmine in many red sweets is not vegan as it is made from crushed beetles, which produce red pigmentation. In addition to being made with gelatin and food dyes, even sprinkles, which can be seen on cupcakes and cookies, are not vegan. It's best to communicate openly with your caterer, who will better understand what is vegan and what isn't, since hidden sources of animal products are so familiar and often aren't obvious to connect to animals. To ensure everyone is taken care of, it may be better to find a caterer who has experience with veganism if your caterer doesn't know all the pitfalls.

Many caterers have become accustomed to catering to vegans as the vegan diet becomes more popular, so providing delicious vegan options becomes more manageable and accessible. It would be best if you always double-check with your caterer and order vegan items explicitly labelled.

For vegetarians who struggle to get enough protein and vitamins, pescetarianism is an excellent choice, as fish is a great source of protein and vitamins. It is similar to following a vegetarian diet, but you can also eat fish, which is rarely consumed. It is easier for pescetarians to be catered to, as they usually consume a primarily vegetarian diet, so providing vegetarian options at the table will also satisfy them. When catering for pescetarians, including fish options is a good idea. Still, always remember who else will attend the event - for example, if two pescetarians attend an event. Still, two people have a severe shellfish allergy, and the shrimp platter might not be the best choice.

Religious Restrictions
Religious restrictions are also essential when ordering food because they can have a considerable impact. It is essential to respect these religious differences and ensure that when ordering food, you have taken them into account. Taking religious dietary restrictions into account should also consider the individual since not every person who follows a religion adheres to the dietary rules or may modify them as needed.

A kosher food product complies with kashrut, the Jewish food laws.

It is necessary to avoid certain types of meats when keeping kosher, such as pork and shellfish, and instead consume only fleshy Seafood or grass-fed land animals.

Keeping kosher also requires that no meat and dairy be eaten together. For example, preparing pizza, cheeseburgers, and nachos is difficult since they are all off-limits under certain circumstances.

There are a number of dietary restrictions in Islam categorised into what is halal (allowed) and what is haram (prohibited). The preparation of certain foods, particularly the slaughter of animals, is subject to other requirements, especially pork and alcohol, which are the only foods that are entirely haram.

Choose a caterer that explicitly states that they follow these guidelines if you're catering to a group that requires halal options, or choose an option that offers a meat-free alternative.


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