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Q&A: Food safety knowledge, culinary creativity empower foodservice operators to put peanuts on the menu

Serving foods that pose a potential allergy risk can be an area of concern for foodservice operators, but focusing on caution and preparedness allows operators to serve any dish with confidence.

7 min read


Q&A: Food safety knowledge, culinary creativity empower foodservice operators to put peanuts on the menu

The National Peanut Board

This post is sponsored by the National Peanut Board.

Serving foods that pose a potential allergy risk can be an area of concern for foodservice operators, but focusing on caution and preparedness allows operators to serve any dish with confidence, according to culinary nutrition consultant Garrett Berdan and registered dietitian nutritionist for the National Peanut Board Sherry Coleman Collins. SmartBrief interviewed Berdan and Collins about how operators can safely serve peanuts and other potential allergens in any foodservice environment, whether it’s a restaurant or a school cafeteria. They share tips for food safety and offer suggestions for dishes that highlight peanuts in creative ways.


May is National Allergy Awareness Month, and peanuts can sometimes give foodservice operators pause since some consumers avoid them due to allergy. How can foodservice operators feel confident about putting peanuts on the menu?

Berdan: Research has shown that the risk of an allergic response to peanut protein cross-contact is very low in the school setting. I think the best way for foodservice operators to regain confidence is to inform themselves and learn best practices for managing food allergies.  The CDC and the Institute of Child Nutrition both offer free evidence-based online training resources for food allergy management.

Collins: The best way to serve any food allergen is by focusing on caution and preparedness. Some of the best ways to be confident are using caution in becoming educated about safe food handling practices to prevent cross-contact, learning how to identify food allergens before (for foodservice handlers) and during service (to the customer), and being prepared for an accidental ingestion and food allergy reaction. The National Restaurant Association offers a ServSafe Allergen program online that is inexpensive and serves as an efficient way to help educate staff.

Are there differences in how you recommend operators approach food allergy management? For instance restaurant vs. retail vs. institutional (such as college and k-12)?

Berdan: No, there aren’t differences in the approach to food allergy management across these foodservice settings. The main steps are to train staff, prevent cross contact in food preparation and communicate with the customer. Food preparation is fundamentally similar regardless of the style of cooking or the setting. Think of it as an extension of food safety and sanitation training.

Collins: All foodservice areas can successfully manage food allergens using the caution and preparedness approach. Annual training that includes food allergen handling as part of the culture of food safety in any foodservice operation is a best practice. One important system to have in place in each of these arenas is ensuring that all staff — regardless of when they start — receives the same food allergen handling training.

What are the nutritional benefits of peanuts, and how can chefs and foodservice professionals highlight these benefits?

Berdan: Peanuts are a healthy, economical source of plant protein. Peanuts have the most protein per ounce of any other nut, plus they provide fiber and good monounsaturated fat. Consumer interest in plant-based proteins has increased in recent years, and offering peanuts and peanut butter on the menu can help chefs and foodservice professionals provide more choices for customers looking for less animal protein.

Collins: Peanuts are a healthy food and provide more than 30 essential vitamins and phytonutrients, including protein and fiber, and are a superfood.  Research supports the positive impact of peanuts on heart health and they have earned the heart check from the American Heart Association and the following FDA-approved heart health claim: Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, including peanuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Customization is a big trend in foodservice right now. What are some ways chefs can present peanuts as an optional add-on to a dish?

Berdan: Peanuts and peanut butter are a favorite embellishment to dishes from many different cuisines. Roasted whole or chopped peanuts can be available as a topping for both sweet and savory dishes. Rice and noodle bowls are very popular right now and crunchy peanuts can add some complementary texture and flavor to this dish. Imagine a stir-fry station with roasted peanuts, cilantro, green onions, and sambal oelek chili paste as optional toppings. Or a rice bowl with mole negro chicken topped with chopped peanuts, pickled red onion and crumbled cotija cheese.

Peanut butter goes with anything. It is used as a dip for vegetables and fresh fruits, and it can be swirled into smoothies, smoothie bowls, yogurt and oatmeal. Peanut butter is also a favorite topping on pancakes and waffles. Because of the sweet and savory nature of peanut butter, it pairs nicely with both bananas and bacon.

Collins: Using peanuts in a variety of forms can really showcase their versatility. From crunchy whole peanuts to finely ground peanut flour, there is a texture for every application. Whole, shelled peanuts can be used in a DIY trail mix or yogurt parfait station; while regular and flavored peanut butters can be offered as part of a custom PBJ bar along with fruit, pretzels, jams and even chopped and shredded fresh vegetables. Finally, powdered peanut butter is an amazing, clean-label protein powder for mixing into smoothies and smoothie bowls — both hot among health-conscious consumers of all ages.

Peanuts are a very familiar ingredient to most consumers. What are some inventive ways to incorporate peanuts and peanut products into dishes that diners may not have seen before?

Berdan: Crunchy dry-roasted peanuts add a delicious nutty crunch to stir-fried vegetables and noodles, rice bowls and yogurt parfaits.  Peanut butter becomes savory peanut sauce for dipping vegetables or as a dressing for salads.  Peanut butter can also be swirled into yogurt for that familiar flavor and a protein boost, plus it makes a great dip for fresh sliced apples, pears, celery or carrots. 

Collins: Gourmet peanut oil is a fantastic ingredient for a savory salad dressing or drizzled into soup, because it gives a toasty peanut flavor that’s exotic, yet familiar for consumers. One newcomer for chefs to try is green peanut oil, which also offers a flavor that rivals olive oil.  Savory baked goods are another area where peanuts shine and surprise, because most people associated this application and peanuts with sweet. Using peanuts along with spices and chilies for heat to create a tasty flat-bread, savory scone or wrap are all unexpected ways to harness the adaptability of peanuts in delectable ways.

Garrett Berdan, RDN, is a culinary nutrition consultant specializing in K-12 school nutrition programs, quantity and consumer recipe development, culinary training and demonstrations, and culinary nutrition communications. His career includes experience working as a retail dietitian for a progressive grocery company, a program manager for a state commodity marketing commission, a culinary nutrition instructor, and a production assistant for a Food Network television program.

Sherry Coleman Collins is a metro-Atlanta based registered dietitian nutritionist and consultant for the National Peanut Board. She leads the Board’s efforts to provide reliable, science-based information about peanuts and peanut allergies. You can follow her at @PeanutRD on Twitter and Instagram.


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