These days, the restaurant industry must take major precautions against food allergies and food intolerance. The FDA estimates that one of every 25 people in the United States have food allergies. This number increases when a food intolerance come into the picture. To ensure that your restaurant does not induce a food allergy, pay attention to your customers with allergies or an intolerance.
Common Food Allergies
While many people suffer from food allergies and intolerances, there is a distinctive difference between the two. The confusion comes from the very similar symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, intolerance is a hypersensitivity to a food, while the allergy affects the immune system. An intolerance, while very uncomfortable and can make one physically ill, is not life threatening. However, restaurant staff needs to take both very seriously.
The FDA has listed “The Big 8” which contains 90% of all food allergies. These include eggs, peanuts, wheat, fish, soy, milk, tree nuts and shellfish. Restaurants need to pay close attention to this list, as many customers will inquire about them. Many of these allergies sneak in as ingredients to packaged or manufactured foods. Pay attention to ingredient lists to know if it includes any allergens for the sake of your customers. Also note, allergens such as eggs, milk, wheat and soy are more prevalent among children. In fact, FARE states that 1 in 13 children have a food allergy. Many children outgrow the egg, milk, wheat and soy allergy. However, in the recent decade, many children are taking longer to outgrow them than in the past.
Handling Food Allergies in a Restaurant
Your restaurant must take responsibility for preventing any food allergic reactions. This process begins before an allergic customer enters the door. To stay effective, train your staff regarding food allergens and intolerance. Begin with educating both front-of-the-house and back of the house on menu items that include allergens. Before the customer takes a seat, the host should ask if they have a food allergy. The host would then tell the table’s wait staff. If a customer states they have an allergy, wait staff should know which options are off-limits to the customer. Remember, these allergies can be life threatening, better safe than sorry.
Kitchen staff should also know how to substitute for allergens or ingredients in certain dishes. For example, those with gluten intolerance may ask for no cheese; or one with a shellfish allergy may ask for chicken instead of shrimp. These substitutions or variations should be available in your eatery. Since many allergies are very sensitive, extra precautions should take place. Make sure to use different preparations when dealing with allergies. Use different cooking utensils, pans, grills, and frying oils, when preparing an allergy-free meal. SafeFARE has resources available for your restaurant to use to ensure safe eating for allergic customers.
Reacting to the Reaction
If an allergic reaction does indeed occur at your restaurant, stay calm. The customer will need immediate help. Have a staff member stay with the customer while another calls 9-1-1. If the customer keeps an Epi-Pen on hand, make sure it is administered. While you have taken the necessary precautions against the allergy, sometimes accidents do happen. Remember to stay calm and make sure the customer receives the help they need from a trained professional.
Intolerance and allergies are more common now than ever. Make sure your restaurant takes the necessary steps to prevent any allergic reaction from a customer. Train all staff to know ingredients in all menu options, as well as how to substitute for non-allergens or intolerance ingredients. If a customer does react to something, stay calm and help in whatever way possible. An intolerance sickening and allergies are life-threatening, as a restaurant, do all you can to prevent them from happening.