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Stand-Up Training: Food Allergies

Food manager teaches employees about food allergies

Empower Employees Through Food Safety Training

Help reinforce good food safety practices in your establishment through stand-up meetings. Use this training outline as a guide for your next meeting. Because food allergies affect an estimated 32 million people in the United States, you probably serve many people with food allergies. Your employees affect the comfort and safety of your allergic customers. If employees are knowledgeable and confident about the food they prepare and serve, customers will feel at ease in your establishment.

Learning Objectives

You may choose to read these learning objectives with your employees as a part of the stand-up training.

After this training, employees should be able to:

  • Identify major food allergens
  • Communicate customers’ allergen concerns with other employees
  • Show confidence when dealing with customers’ allergen requests
  • Avoid cross-contact with allergens when preparing food

The Facts

You may choose to read these facts with your employees as a part of the stand-up training.

  • The FDA recognizes nine major food allergens: wheat, eggs, milk, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, crustacean shellfish, and fin fish.
  • Food allergies can be fatal. Since reactions are unpredictable, each should be treated as life-threatening.
  • The best way to avoid an allergic reaction in your customers is to prevent cross-contact with allergens. Cross-contact happens when allergens get into non-allergenic foods, making those foods dangerous for people with food allergies.
  • Equipment and surfaces must be cleaned and sanitized before they can be used to prepare allergen-free foods.
  • Employees should wash their hands and change their gloves before preparing allergen-free food orders.
  • If you have separate equipment dedicated to preparing allergen-free orders, color-coordinate, separate, or mark it so that employees understand and use it for its intended purpose.

Training Activities

Choose the activities that will be most beneficial for your employees. Modify them as needed to fit the training needs of your establishment.

Look for Food Allergens in Labels

Display: Gather a few of the packaged ingredients you sell or use in your menu items. With your employees, read through the listed ingredients on the packages.

Discuss: Which ingredients contain major food allergens? Refer to the Major Food Allergens poster during the discussion.

Explain: If you notice any allergenic ingredients that are not easily recognizable, like farro (wheat) or edamame (soy), point them out to your employees.

Record: Make a list of all ingredients that contain major food allergens and include it in your Food Allergen Management Plan.

Practice Interacting with Customers with Food Allergies

Prepare: Plan a role-play with your employees to practice interacting with allergic customers. Ask one employee to act as a customer with food allergies who orders or purchases a food item. Ask another employee to act as a server who does not listen well or take the customer’s concerns seriously. You may choose to take either of these roles if you wish to call attention to issues or concerns at your establishment. If you can, meet with your employees in a serving or sales area.

Observe: Observe the server in the role-play as he or she does a poor job listening to the allergic customer. Act in one of these roles if desired.

Discuss: What should you do differently as the server? You may show your employees the Caveman Allergies cartoon as a humorous example of what not to do.

Involve: Ask for volunteers to act as an attentive server who addresses the customer’s needs. The employee acting as the customer should ask questions and voice their concerns in the same ways that your customers do.

Discuss: How should you address tricky situations or concerns from customers? Are there any food allergies that you cannot safely accommodate in your establishment?

Work Together to Prevent Cross-Contact

Read: From the beginning to the end of the food preparation process, several mistakes could be made that would result in cross-contact with allergens. For example, a prep cook could neglect to change gloves, a grill cook could use the wrong spatula, or a server could bring the food on the same platter as an allergenic food.

List: Pick a food item that your employees may prepare for allergic customers. Have your employees list the steps of preparing and serving the food.

Discuss: Which steps in the process could result in cross-contact with allergens?

Record: Mark the steps that your employees talk about. Write down any suggestions your employees have for improving safety of the food preparation processes in your establishment.

Use a Food Allergen Management Plan

Display: If your food establishment has a Food Allergen Management Plan, read it with your employees. If you do not have one, you may print and begin to fill out the Food Allergen Management Plan template.

Discuss: What suggestions do you have for improving the plan?

Record: Write down your employees’ ideas and comments. Use this as an opportunity to improve the plan with your employees’ input.

Challenge: Ask employees to pay specific attention to how they interact with customers and coworkers. Thorough communication and teamwork help to prevent mistakes and dangerous allergic reactions.

Following Up

Use these ideas to follow up with your employees and make sure that they handle food allergens safely.

  1. Keep an eye on how your employees interact with customers with food allergies. Follow up with them afterward to help them improve these interactions. Remind them to be honest, thorough, and to take their customers’ concerns seriously.
  2. If you have separate equipment for allergen-free orders, pay attention to how your employees use it. Provide any corrections they may need and offer praise for good practices that you see.

Make sure your shift managers and supervisors can answer questions that other employees may have about handling food allergens. Encourage employees to ask questions when they need help instead of guessing at the right answer. As needed, review this training with your employees.

Resource List

Use the Caveman Allergies cartoon as a friendly reminder to your employees about the importance of listening closely to customers and taking their requests seriously.

The Major Food Allergens poster illustrates common foods that contain the most common food allergens. It also outlines tips for protecting customers with food allergies.

The Food Allergen Management Plan template can be a useful starting point for your establishment to discuss and record important details about handling food allergens.

Did you use this stand-up training in your establishment? We’d love to get your feedback! Submit your comments through our five-minute survey. Submit Feedback

— Alyssa Erickson

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