Food allergies are a growing health issue. According to Food Allergy Research and Education, 1 in 25 adults and 1 in 13 children in the United States, suffer from food allergies. At the present time, there is no cure for a food allergy. Avoidance is the only way to prevent an allergic reaction.
When a person eats a food he or she is allergic to, a reaction may move swiftly through the body, causing a range of symptoms that can include swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat, difficulty breathing, hives, abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of consciousness.
When individuals with food allergies dine away from home, they must rely on foodservice staff to provide them with accurate information about ingredients so they can make an informed decision about what to order. Incorrect or incomplete information puts these individuals at risk for an allergic reaction.
Planning and education are the keys to safely serving a guest who has food allergies. All foodservice staff including managers, servers, and kitchen staff, must be familiar with the issues related to food allergies and the proper way to answer guests' questions. They must know what to do if an allergic reaction occurs.
What is a food allergy?
A food allergy is an immune system response to a food protein that the body mistakenly believes is harmful. Once the immune system decides that a particular food is harmful, it creates specific antibodies to fight it. The immune system releases massive amounts of chemicals, including histamine, in order to protect the body thus triggering an allergic reaction.
What are major food allergens?
While more than 160 foods can cause allergic reactions, the 8 most common account for 90 percent of all food allergic reactions. A major food allergen is defined as one of the following foods or food groups, or used as an ingredient:
- Fish (bass, flounder, cod, etc.)
- Crustacean shellfish (crab, lobster, shrimp, etc.)
- Tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, etc.)
Tips to prevent food allergen reactions in food facilities
- Managers should conduct food allergy training and review of the food allergy management plan periodically to be sure that both new hires and existing employees are properly prepared.
- Keep a list of ingredients for all menu items.
- Have at least one person on duty, ideally the manager, who can handle questions and special requests from guests with food allergies. Other staff members should know who that individual is and should direct questions about food allergies to that person.
- Employees should understand how cross-contact can occur. Keep in mind that improper garnishing or handling of a dish can contaminate an otherwise safe meal.
- If a mistake occurs with the special order, the only acceptable way to correct the situation is to have the kitchen staff discard the incorrect order and remake it.
- If a guest is having an allergic reaction, call 911 and get medical help immediately!
Food allergen resources
The Food Allergy and Research Education (FARE) is a nonprofit organization established to raise public awareness, to provide advocacy and education, and to advance research on behalf of all those affected by food allergies and anaphylaxis.
Food Allergy and Research and Resource Program (FARRP) — University of Nebraska — This website shares the latest research and information related to food allergens.
Are you looking for food allergen training?
Food allergen training for foodservice employees online course. This one-hour online course teaches food handlers about food allergies and the important role they have to protect the health of their customers, clients, or students. Free employee training option with purchase. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emerging Trends online module of Serve It Up Safely covers the topic of food allergens. Purchase the module for $25.
- About food allergies. (2016). Food Allergy and Research Education.
- Focus on allergens. (2016 March 7). Food Safety Magazine.
Revised by Suzanne Driessen 2016