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The Serious Business of Food Allergies

Many foodservice establishments have a food allergy accommodation program but taking the time to communicate that plan to and train employees on it remains important. 

To help foodservice operations better accommodate guests with food allergies, the Food Issues Group offers the following tips:

  • Fully communicate the operation's written policy to the entire staff.
  • Document allergy training and evaluate employees based on their competency. Wait staff should be trained on how to effectively listen to the allergy concerns of patrons and how to communicate allergy needs to the kitchen staff.
  • Develop a master menu that lists all of the ingredients necessary for each dish in case a patron inquires. Transparency is the new standard.
  • Review the signs and symptoms of allergic reactions, which could occur within minutes of exposure or as long as two hours.
  • Recognize the most frequent signs of allergies including: a) hives, itching, or skin rash; b) swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat, or other parts of the body; c) wheezing, nasal congestion or trouble breathing; d) abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting; e) dizziness, light-headedness or fainting.
  • Avoid cross-contamination by cleaning all utensils, pans, cooking surfaces and cutting boards.
  • Place an advisory notice on the menu that states if a person has a medical condition or food allergy to inform the server.
  • Designate one person in the front of the house to deliver allergy safe orders to patrons and one person in the back of the house to prepare it.
  • Review allergy programs with a food health and safety expert before training and implementation.
  • Sanitize menu jackets between uses.
  • Replace condiment containers and their holder with a sanitized set.
  • Establish a code on order slips that tells the kitchen the specific allergen to avoid.
  • Have mock allergy rehearsals to test the allergy program's efficacy.

"Of all the issues that a restaurant or cafeteria must deal with, allergy accommodation may not be a priority," says Jeff Nelken MA, RD (retired), an experienced professional in all aspects of food safety and a member of the Tellem Grody PR Food Issues Group. "However, this can be a life-threatening matter. There are roughly between 200 to 300 reported deaths due to food allergies each year. In addition, there are more than 30,000 emergency room admissions, half of which are due to foodservice-related situations."