Food allergies are extremely common in the United States. In fact, FARE estimates that every three minutes someone is sent to the emergency room due to a food allergy reaction. Some allergic reactions can result in anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening.
To prevent a customer at your establishment from having an allergic reaction to their meal, you should learn how to identify potential allergens by reading nutrition labels.
Major food allergens
In order to properly identify allergens on labels, it is important to know the most common food allergens. The 8 Major Food Allergens Poster shows the top 8 food allergens identified by the FDA and where they are commonly found:
- Shellfish: Lobster, shrimp, crab
- Milk: Cheese, creams, yogurt
- Peanuts: Cereal, peanut butter, peanut oil
- Tree nuts: Almonds, cashews, nutmeg, pecans, walnuts
- Egg: Mayonnaise, salad dressings, some baked goods
- Fish: Anchovies, Caesar salad dressing, Worcestershire sauce
- Wheat: Bran, bread, pasta
- Soybeans: Soy milk, soy sauce, tofu
Federal labeling requirements
Now you know the common allergens, but how are you supposed to know if they are in a food item? The federal government requires major allergens to be listed on nutrition labels.
There are two different methods food production facilities can use to label common allergens in food products. The first is to add the word “Contains” followed by the name of the food source that the common allergen is derived from. This list should be in the same typeface and size as the ingredients list and be either adjacent to or below the ingredients list.
The second method for labeling common allergens is to put it in parentheses following the ingredient that contains the allergen.
This container of fudge ice cream topping is a good example of a properly labeled allergen containing food. Milk, which is a common allergen, is listed in parentheses following “chocolate” on the ingredient list. It’s also listed below the ingredients list following the word “Contains.”
Keep in mind that although this example shows both ways to label a major allergen, only one method is required. For that reason, you should always check the full ingredients list for food allergens.
Labeling requirements for house-made foods
If your workplace makes food to sell, you need to abide by the same federal labeling requirements and include major allergens on the label. Follow one of the two methods for disclosing food allergens.
It’s also important to note that for tree nuts, fish, or shellfish, the specific type of nut or fish also needs to be disclosed on the label.
Recalls due to undeclared allergens
As seen in the above cartoon, sometimes food items are recalled due to undeclared allergens on the label. Depending on the recall, you may need to discard the product or return it to the place you purchased it from. The first step should be to separate the recalled items from other food products and mark the items so they are not used.
For more information on what to do with recalled food items, read Food Recalls — What You Should Know and Do. It is important that food items with undeclared allergens should not be served to customers, as this can lead to serious allergic reactions.
Serving customers with food allergies
Now that you know how to identify allergens in food, you can serve customers with allergies better. Whenever you learn about a customer’s allergy, use food labels to check for allergens so you can tell them which menu items are safe for them.
If you work in the kitchen, you can use food labels to avoid cross-contact of allergens with food products served to an allergic customer.
If you’re a manager, consider how you can prevent your customers from having an allergic reaction or going into anaphylactic shock. Regularly remind your employees to read labels to avoid serving a customer an allergen and to prevent cross-contact with allergens.
It may also be beneficial to use the Diet Cheat Sheet Template to create a reference of safe menu items that employees can reference if they have questions and can’t find you. In addition, you can use the food allergy stand-up training or the online Food Allergy Awareness Training to train your employees.
— Jacqueline Quist
Download/print cartoon: Mayflower Undeclared Allergens
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