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How to Navigate Food Allergies in the Restaurant Industry


How to Navigate Food Allergies in the Restaurant Industry

From childhood to adulthood, food allergies have a wide-range of causes and treatments. And when it comes to your restaurant, they can have far-reaching implications if you don’t currently have an action plan in place.

According to a recent report from the CDC, childhood food allergies are widespread, with nearly 3 million children under the age of 18 suffering from food allergies. And it’s only increasing. That same report from the CDC found that “from 1997 to 2007, the prevalence of reported food allergy increased 18% among children under age 18 years.” And according to their 2017 report, roughly 4-6% of children in the United States are affected from the disease with no cure.

And that’s just the children. According to a recent report from NBC News, professionals agree that the trend is also affecting adults with more instances of adult onset allergies than ever before.

"...private insurance claim lines with diagnoses of anaphylactic food reactions rose 377 percent from 2007 to 2016. And half of adults with food allergies developed them after the age of 18."

So how do you keep your restaurant and staff food safe from allergies? Here are a few ways to help.

Understanding the most common allergens

According to WebMD, eight different foods cause 90 percent of the food allergies across the United States. Here’s a list to keep in mind as you go to place a customer's’ order:

  • "Milk (mostly in children)
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts, like walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, brazil nuts, and pecans
  • Soy
  • Wheat and other grains with gluten, including barley, rye, and oats
  • Fish (mostly in adults)
  • Shellfish (mostly in adults)"

Take preventative measures

The CDC has an action plan for public schools to implement as preventative measures for dealing with food allergies. However, these measures can be applicable to the restaurant industry, as well. These are not law-abiding, but rather, recommendations for a more unified and scientifically-approved approach to food safety. They include that you:

  1. Proper preparation for food emergencies
  2. Keep food substitutes for food allergens on hand
  3. Properly train / keep your staff informed of latest practices and standards.
  4. Cultivate and maintain a safe restaurant environment.

Here are a few additional methods that will help those in the restaurant industry navigate this complex problem.

  1. As a standard practice, once your patron sits down and prior to taking their order, you should ask and see if they have any dietary restrictions. This gives you the space to make sure prior to placing the order on their behalf and helps avoid any awkward moments or allergic reactions.
  2. If patrons feel uncomfortable with the food handling portion of the meal, you can offer your manager to take care of the order on their behalf.
  3. Ensure that their order is delivered separately from the rest of the table’s order -- this ensures that no plate stacking or potential mixing with other dishes that might cause your patron harm.
  4. Avoid cross-contamination at all costs.

Spot early warning signs & take action

According to many professionals, an allergic reaction will show symptoms between 20 minutes - a hour from ingesting the food.

Symptoms include:

  • Runny nose, sneezing or a cough
  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Itchy mouth or inner ear
  • Upset stomach, cramps; digestive problems
  • Hives or eczema
  • Swollen airways
  • Anaphylaxis

Many children under 18 might not know the symptoms of a food allergy, so pay attention to what they say. A lot of times, a food allergy symptom will make them feel like their tongue is heavy, their mouth is tingling or they have a frog in their throat.

If you, your manager or your patrons spot these early warning signs, call emergency services and get them assistance immediately. For more information on how to deal with food allergies in your restaurant, visit the CDC website here.