Hershey Park, PA: A Food Allergy Review

My in-laws moved to Pennsylvania this year and we visited them the first of June.  I’ll share more about the rest of our trip in a post next week, but today I want to focus on one of fabulous finds we made during our visit: Hershey Park!
Before setting out for Hershey, Pennsylvania, I had visions of a chocolate factory and halfway wondered if everything inside was made of chocolate (think Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory).  Now you know why my husband is the travel planner and not me.  ;)
Parts of Hershey very much resemble small-town American with unassuming mom and pop shops, eateries, and even some beautiful farmland.  But, don’t worry about spotting downtown Hershey, as the Hershey Kiss street lamps are a deliciously sweet clue!  The town itself is charming, but our adrenaline really kicked in when we saw the signs for Hershey Park and the mountainous roller coasters standing behind them!
Hershey Park
Before I go on, let me define Hershey Park.  The park itself is basically an amusement park (similar to Six Flags over Texas) that boasts tons of rides and activities for all ages. 
Before our visit, I contacted the folks at Hershey Park via email to explain about my son’s multiple food allergies and my celiac and asked if they would meet with me so I could share everything I learned with you!  In a matter of hours I had a response from Kathy Burrows, Public Relations Manager for Hershey Entertainment & Resorts.  She was more than happy to accommodate our allergy needs and educate us on the park’s food allergy awareness.
Upon our arrival at the park, Kathy and two more smiling faces awaited us:  Sophia Zulli, Director of Food and Beverage for Hershey Entertainment Complex and Tony Tinsley, Concessions Manager for Hershey Entertainment Complex.  Talk about customer service!  They were wonderfully welcoming and went out of their way to patiently answer all of our questions.  I was extremely impressed with their knowledge and handling of food allergies within the park.
Sophia and Tony have some personal experience in living the food allergy life and take their work very seriously.  They kindly provided much of the following italicized information:
How we make guests aware
Our guests are presented with information if a variety of ways.  In an effort to connect with guests prior to their visit, we have all of our ingredients listed by location on our web site. (http://www.hersheypark.com/food_and_shops/ingredients/index.php)  Items are broken down by location, and Allergen Sensitive items are listed separately. (http://www.hersheypark.com/food_and_shops/pdf/gluten_free.pdf)
Once guests are on property, they are alerted to the location of our offerings on the Park Map.  A Legend was created for the map to designate locations that offer Gluten Free (GF), Nut Free (NF), and Dairy Free (DF) options.  (http://www.hersheypark.com/map/index.php)
All locations offering Allergen Sensitive Items have a designation on the menu board to alert guests.
Our family loved the information that was available on the web site so we could research thoroughly prior to our visit.  The map with designated allergy-friendly locations is worth its weight in gold when you are traveling all over the park throughout the day and need to find a safe dining experience close by.
How We Communicate
Along with ingredient listings on the web site, we also offer ways for guests to contact us with questions of comments.  Concessions and Catering managers have access to a shared email account.  Guests are typically contacted within 24–48 hours of writing, and we see an average of 4-6 emails a day through our peak season.  There is also a phone number listed for more immediate inquiries.  Allergen questions for Hersheypark can be emailed to HersheyparkAllergens@HersheyPA.com. 
As I mentioned at the beginning of my post, I and the rest of my extended family were beyond impressed with the timeliness, thoroughness, and respectfulness of the folks at Hershey Park.

Providers of Allergen Sensitive Items

  • Famous Famiglia Dough – famousfamiglia.com
  • Gluten Free Pizza Crust
  • French Meadow Bakery – frenchmeadow.com (Gluten Free Breads, Wraps, Brownies, Muffins, Cookies, Cakes and Cupcakes)
  • Divvies Products – divvies.com (Peanut, Tree Nut, Egg and Milk free Popcorn and Cookies)
  • Udi’s Rolls – udisglutenfree.com (Gluten Free Rolls, and Buns)
  • GF Naturals – gfnaturals.com (Gluten Free Breaded Chicken Tenders)

Handling of Allergy-Friendly Products
Certain items are individually packaged to prevent cross contamination, as well as making the items easily presentable to guests looking for a grab-and-go option.  These items include Gluten Free Rolls, Buns, Brownies, Muffins, Cookies, Cakes, Cupcakes and Divvies Popcorn and Cookies.
Here are a few examples of that attention to detail:
Gluten Free Pizza Crust
When a cashier is approached by a guest ordering the Gluten Free Pizza Crust, the following takes place;

  • The guest is informed that we would be happy to prepare the pizza, and is made aware that there may be a longer than normal wait time for the item due to being made to order
  • The kitchen staff receives the order, and proceeds to wash/sanitize hands thoroughly as well as putting on new gloves and cleaning the surrounding countertop area
  • They use a special pizza screen, a different size than our normal screens, and special utensils, designated by handle color, used only for the production of Gluten Free options
  • A new can of sauce and bag of cheese are opened
  • The crust is allowed to proof on the screen for a few minutes to ensure quality
  • The pizza is sent through our conveyor ovens and cut with a special cutter

 Gluten Free Wrap, Bread or Roll
When a cashier is approached by a guest ordering the Gluten Free Wrap, Bread, or Roll, the following takes place;

  • The guest is informed that we would be happy to prepare the entree, and is made aware that there may be a longer than normal wait time for the item due to being made to order
  • The kitchen staff receives the order, and proceeds to wash/sanitize hands thoroughly as well as putting on new gloves and cleaning the surrounding countertop area
  • The roll is cut on a designated cutting board, using a color specific board and knife
  • The item is placed on a new boat or tray and placed in microwave, as items are held frozen to extend shelf life   
  • The item is prepared to order on a clean and sanitized surface.  Entrees served on these items include burgers, chicken breasts, deli sandwiches/wraps, tacos and fajitas

 Gluten Free Chicken Tenders
When a cashier is approached by a guest ordering the Gluten Free Chicken Tenders or French Fries, the following takes place;

  • The guest is informed that we would be happy to prepare the entree, and is made aware that there may be a longer than normal wait time for the item due to being made to order
  • The kitchen staff receives the order, and proceeds to wash/sanitize hands thoroughly as well as putting on new gloves and cleaning the surrounding countertop area
  • The staff member preparing the chicken strips or French fries utilizes a small pizza screen, used only in the production of Gluten Free items
  • The order of chicken strips or French fries is then sent through a conveyor oven until reaching proper temperature

At the completion of every order, utensils are sent directly to wash for future use.
In all venues the manager and/or culinary staff worked together to ensure that all appropriate steps are taken to prepare a guests meal.  Such things would include but not limited to; changing of gloves, correct cutting board being utilized if one is needed, opening a bag/case of new products to prepare the meal to avoid cross contamination, using utensils and equipment designated for such meals, cook and prep areas having instructions on how to prepare meals and proper training for staff.
Other items that are prepared within our locations require safe handling protocol to be in place to ensure the safety of our guests.
My son and I ate lunch at the park and saw the above standards performed first-hand.  My son enjoyed peanut and nut-free pizza with french fries and I had a fabulous gluten-free cheeseburger with french fries.  Honestly, it was a really good burger and my son gave the pizza rave reviews!
IMG_2337
Special Note:  While we did not find it problematic, it is worth mentioning that there are dining areas and food stands throughout the park that do offer peanut, nut, and gluten-related items.  This is pretty standard for most amusement and recreational parks including that of very food allergy friendly Walt Disney World.
Right next door to Hershey Park is Chocolate World (a separate entity from the park), the educational side of chocolate.  A slow-moving but entertaining ride takes you through a large exhibit explaining how chocolate is found, processed, and made into the tasty goodies you and I enjoy every day.  At the end of the ride, every passenger is offered a mini-Hershey bar or there are Twizzlers available for those with peanut/nut allergies.  When exiting the ride, you are dumped out into a HUGE gift shop full of Hershey’s trinkets and souvenirs and, of course, chocolate!  (For more on Hershey’s labeling process, please search Hershey’s on my blog.  The company is very dedicated to thorough allergy labeling…yet another reason I really do love them.)
Our trip to Hershey was an immensely enjoyable one (thanks to the folks at Hershey Park) living up to its self-proclaimed title as “The Sweetest Place on Earth!”

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