Food Allergies: What Chefs and Restaurant Operators Need to Know
What is a Food Allergy?
A food allergy is a response from the immune system towards a food that the body mistakenly believes is harmful. Once the immune system decides that a particular food is harmful, it will release massive amounts of chemicals to protect the body once the food is reintroduced into the system. These chemicals, in turn, trigger a cascade of allergic symptoms that can affect the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, skin, or cardiovascular system.
Food Allergy Facts
- Food Allergy is an increasing issue, affecting approximately 4% of the population, or 12 million Americans.
- Food Allergy incidents have doubled in the U.S. over the past decade.
- 6.5 million Americans are allergic to seafood; 3 million are allergic to peanuts/tree nuts.
- Eight foods account for 90% of all food-allergic reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (e.g., walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans), wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish.
- Trace amounts of a food allergen is enough to trigger a reaction.
- Reactions can be unexpected. Even inhaling the fumes from cooking an allergen can cause a reaction to some individuals.
- Reused cooking oil can cause a reaction if the individual's food was cooked in the same oil as the allergen.
Food Allergy In Restaurants
- A review of 63 fatal food-allergic reactions showed that almost half of the reactions involved food provided by restaurant or food service establishments. Many reactions were caused by server error; cross-contact during preparation; and hidden/surprise ingredients.
- Restaurant employees are lacking knowledge about the serious nature of food allergies and the importance of strict allergen avoidance.
Key Points to Remember
Eight Most Common Food Allergens - peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat, milk, eggs
Always let the guest make their own informed decision
When a guest states that someone in their party has a food allergy, follow the four R's:
- REFER the food allergy concern to the chef, manager, or person in charge.
- REVIEW the food allergy with the guest and check ingredient labels.
- REMEMBER to check the preparation procedure for potential cross-contact.
- RESPOND to the guest and inform them of your findings.
Sources of Cross Contact:
- Cooking oils, splatter and steam from cooking foods.
- When any type of utensil (spoons, knives, spatulas, tongs, etc.), cutting boards, bowls, hotel pans, sheet pans, pots, pans, fryers and grills come into contact with food allergens, all must be washed thoroughly in hot soapy water.
If a guest has an allergic reaction, notify management and call 911.
Restaurant Food Allergy Education
Education is key to successfully manage food allergies. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) offers a comprehensive Food Allergy Training Guide for Restaurant and Food Services, which was developed in cooperation with the National Restaurant Association and its members. The FAAN Food Allergy Training Guide for Restaurant and Food Services program, available in both English and Spanish, provides the tools necessary to train restaurant staff to safely prepare and serve food.
To find out more about the FAAN Food Allergy Training Guide for Restaurant and Food Services program, visit the FAAN website.
Information gathered from Pennsylvania Restaurant Matters' article, "Food Allergies."