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Food Allergies Spotlight: Handle with Care

hands holding pistachios on isolated white backgroundOnce upon a time, there lived an 8-year-old girl and her best friend lived across the street. They were playing together one day when her friend offered her a pistachio.

“They’re so good,” she said.

The little girl wasn’t so sure. She’d seen those nuts before at her grandparents’ house and steered clear. Nuts were gross. Peanuts always stuck in her teeth and she hated that!

After some coaxing, the little girl agreed. With one pistachio cracked, chewed, and swallowed, she decided they weren’t so bad and ate another.

It wasn’t long after the second pistachio had been swallowed that her throat felt dry. She asked for water, but nothing seemed to make it go away. Then her stomach felt yucky. Something wasn’t right. She was going to be sick, she told her friend. She was sure of it.

Together, they crossed the street to her house. Her mom was on the computer when she walked in. She told her mom how she felt and her mom laid her down on the bed, with a bucket, just in case!

Her mother knew something was very wrong when the girl’s skin went red all over and large hives started to appear. Feeling increasingly concerned, her mother phoned the doctor.

“Call an ambulance,” the doctor said. “Sounds like an anaphylactic reaction.”

While waiting for the ambulance to arrive, things got worse. The little girl vomited and after, realized that she could no longer speak above a whisper. Her throat was closing. Paramedics arrived and asked if the little girl would be able to make the trek down the stairs where the stretcher was waiting. She thought she could, but quickly learned that was not the case. Her vision blurred and narrowed and things started to sound far away.

“I can’t see you, Mom!” she cried.

She was carried the rest of the way while her parents made plans for her brothers to stay with her friend across the street. She went in and out of consciousness throughout the ambulance ride, with her mom talking to her the whole way.

And then she woke up in the hospital, vomiting once more before a nurse offered her some Gatorade and a Popsicle. Shots were given (right in the behind!) and soon she was released from the hospital. It was 2 am.

The next day, the little girl sat at her desk and created a bright colored sign to hang above her bed to never forget.

“DO NOT EAT PISTACHIOS!”

My Allergies Today
When I found out in second grade that I had a food allergy, my 8-year-old mind thought I was going to die. It’s a terrifying experience for a child to go through. It’s terrifying no matter what age you are!

Food allergies are becoming more and more common, yet so many people do not understand how to handle an order for someone with food allergies.

Understanding a food allergy is important in everyday life, but also extremely critical in the food industry.

Handle Customers with Food Allergies with Care
Ever since learning of my food allergy, I’ve had to be that person who always asks, “Are there nuts in this?” I’ve run the gambit of responses to that question. Food workers have been kind, rude, confused, unsure, dismissive, and accommodating.

I once attempted to order at an ice cream parlor that had a policy in place that they did not change gloves or clean their ice cream scoops for anyone with a food allergy. This was jarring to hear—so I spoke to a manager that had the same dismissive attitude and confirmed that they would not do anything to make eating at their establishment safer for those with allergies. Even if your establishment doesn’t provide an allergen-free menu, train your employees to handle customers’ food allergies with care and respect.

Luckily, my experiences with employees being rude or dismissive have been few and far between; however, a majority of my experiences have been with employees that are unsure or even confused by what I’m asking them.

Create a Food Allergy Plan of Action
Creating awareness by educating your employees properly is key to handling a customer’s food allergies safely. Try to set up a plan for employees to follow if someone asks them about food allergies. Even if it’s just knowing to bring a manager over when the employee is unsure of menu items or cross-contamination dangers. I always feel more comfortable ordering food from an establishment when an unsure employee takes the time to bring a manager over to talk with me for a moment. If the manager patiently listens to my food allergy concerns and explains what they can and cannot do regarding the prevention of cross-contact, I really appreciate it. Honesty and a little kindness can go a long way with making people with food allergies comfortable with their choices of what to eat and what not to eat.

You can find these ideas and other tips in the Food Allergens Essentials Training course at StateFoodSafety.com.

Rachelle Riffle

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