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December Cartoon: 4 Keys to Dealing with Food Allergies

How to Protect Your Food Allergic Customers

Researchers believe up to 32 million Americans have a food allergy, including 5.6 million children—and they’re becoming more common.

For people with allergies, foods that would normally be considered safe can have dangerous consequences. An allergic reaction to food can range from simply feeling itchy to anaphylaxis, which causes difficulty breathing.

The good news is protecting your customers with allergies is easy, as long as you remember these four keys:

1. Learn the common food allergens

The FDA identifies major food allergens that food sellers are required to label on products. Although restaurants are not legally required to label allergens, it is important for servers and chefs to be aware of any menu items that may include one of these allergens.

The top 9 allergens are:

  1. Peanuts
  2. Eggs
  3. Dairy
  4. Wheat
  5. Shellfish
  6. Fish
  7. Soy
  8. Tree nuts
  9. Sesame

In addition, food workers should be aware that some diseases and food sensitivities can cause dangerous effects similar to food allergies. For example, a person with Celiac disease could become very sick if their meal became contaminated with gluten.

2. Take food allergies seriously

Always be respectful and sensitive when dealing with people who have food allergies. Never assume the customer simply does not like the ingredient or is being a picky eater.

If someone you are serving mentions they have an allergy, take special care to make sure everyone involved in preparing their meal knows about the allergy.

3. Prevent cross-contact

Cross-contact occurs when an allergenic food touches a non-allergenic food. This could happen directly, if the allergen touches a customer’s meal, or indirectly, if cooking utensils are not properly cleaned and sanitized after handling allergenic food.

When dealing with an allergic customer, each food worker involved in preparing or serving the meal must be extra careful to avoid cross-contact. If possible, there should be separate utensils, food preparation surfaces, and appliances dedicated to making non-allergenic foods.

4. Know how to recognize and respond to an allergic reaction

Hopefully, allergen-contaminated food will never be served to an allergic customer. However, on occasion an allergen may slip through. In that case, it is important for food workers to know the common symptoms of an allergic reaction and how they can help.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction include: achiness, skin redness, mild swelling, stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, watery or itchy eyes, hives, abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, fainting, or anaphylactic shock. Anaphylactic shock—also known as anaphylaxis— occurs when the throat, tongue, or lips swell up, making it difficult to breathe.

Food workers who notice signs of anaphylactic shock should call 9-1-1 and alert the manager.

Allergic reactions can be serious, but if you understand and follow these four keys, you can help keep your customers safe. Learn more about how to handle food allergies with our accredited food allergens training course.

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— Jessica Pettit

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Stand-Up Training: Food Allergies