Food Allergens: A Major Concern

September 20, 2020
Cedric Seguela

Food Allergens are a serious contemporary health hazard. Each year, millions of Americans have allergic reactions to food. The real problem is that there is no cure for them; they can only be avoided. For this, we must know which specific ones are causing the reactions.

So let’s check the statistics! According to FARE, more than 15 million Americans are allergic to specific foods. This includes 5.9 children under the age of 18 which is 1 in 13 children!

The most common ones are:

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Sesame

You probably might have realized that nuts are kind of like a ‘no go’ zone. So yeah, include them in your diet but make sure your body can take them well!

Below, we have tried to explain the concept of food allergens as comprehensively as possible to ensure that you know how to deal with your customers if they ever blame your staff for an upset stomach. Trust me, it happens pretty often!

What is a food allergy?

An allergy occurs when your body’s immune system sees a certain substance as harmful. This defensive mechanism of the body gives rise to a harmful immune response. The body’s immune system makes antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE). These IgE antibodies react with a certain food and cause symptoms.

There are more than 170 food allergens!

The 8 most common ones are those mentioned above. These 8 foods account for 90 different kinds of food allergens.
Small amounts of these food substances can trigger allergic reactions/immune responses.

Hence, it is wise to consult your Doctor to learn about all the things you will have to avoid to be on the safe side. Negligence can prove to be deadly!

How can you train your staff?

There are some technical precautionary measures that your staff should know about. Let’s walk through a few of them, shall we?

So yes, your staff should be able to:

  • List the most common food allergens.
    Learn to differentiate between food allergies, food sensitivities and intolerances.
    Form allergen avoidance techniques including use of food labelling policies and avoidance of contamination.
  • Recognize the symptoms of severe food allergic reactions and anaphylaxis.
  • In case an allergic reaction occurs with one of the customers; kindly and technically explain the allergy and precautionary measures for the future.

Communicate effectively with food-allergic customers and their guardians to ascertain their dietary needs.

How serious of a threat are they?

Findings from a 2009 to 2010 study of 38,480 children (infant to 18) indicated that:

8% have a food allergy
Approximately 6% aged 0-2 years have a food allergy
About 9% aged 3-5 years have a food allergy
Nearly 8% aged 6-10 years have a food allergy
Approximately 8% aged 11-13 years have a food allergy
More than 8.5% aged 14-18 years have a food allergy
38.7% of food allergic children have a history of severe reactions
30.4% of food allergic children have multiple food allergies

Of food allergic children, peanut is the most prevalent allergen, followed by milk and then shellfish

In 2012, 5.6% or 4.1 million children reported food allergies in the past 12 months.

Signs and symptoms

Now you probably have understood that allergens are as serious as food poisoning. Thus, it is integral that we learn about the triggers of these immune responses!

Some people know well about what foods they have to stay a mile from to stay fit and healthy. Others, well, they don’t. Those who don’t are perhaps too lazy to consult a doctor about their respective allergens. Well let’s see what some of the consequences of negligence are:

Hives, itching or skin rash:

  • Diarrhea;
  • Stomach pain;
  • Slight, dry cough;
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Wheezing, nasal
  • congestion, and trouble breathing;
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue, throat or other parts of the body;
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting.

Such are the most common allergies which are quite bearable.

Serious allergic reactions can lead to a deadly state called anaphylaxis. If your customers have this reaction, be fast to help them get an epinephrine shot as soon as possible.

Someone from your staff should call for emergency help (911 if in U.S).

YES! DO NOT DELAY!

Epinephrine can reverse the symptoms within minutes. If not, then another shot should be injected. If left untreated, the results can be deadly. Life-threatening symptoms include:

Swelling of the throat and air passages that make it challenging to breath;
Shock with a severe drop in air pressure;

  • Chest pain
  • Sense of impending doom;
  • Turning blue;
  • Rapid, irregular pulse;
  • And loss of consciousness.
  • The Four R’s

When a customer is afflicted by a certain food allergy, be mindful about the four R’s listed below. These are easy to retain in your memory; especially when there is already too much going on in your head!

Refer the food allergy concern to the person in charge like the department manager.

Review the food allergy with the customer and check ingredient labels.

Remember to check the procedure for risk of potential cross-contact
Respond to the customer and inform them about your findings.

Prevention

Indeed. No one would like an allergic reaction especially in a restaurant in front of so many people. The good news is that there is a simple way to combat this. Avoid the allergens.

After you learn that any of your customers has received an authentic diagnosis, he or she should get an Emergency Care Plan formed from the doctor. Other ways to prevent customers from having a nasty allergic reaction are as follows:

Separate allergens from other ingredients. Try using potential allergy causing nut less in your dishes.
Avoid using the same utensils for different food without washing them properly with hot soapy water

Regularly clean and sanitize
Use a dedicated chop board
Avoid frying with used oil.

Cover and wrap as your dishes have been prepared.

Check the ingredients of all ready-made foods you buy like sauces, sausages and bread.
Don’t rely on ingredient labels. There might be surprises waiting for you!

Keep copies of ingredient lists for customer satisfaction and re-assurance.

If in any doubt, contact the supplier

What should you do if there is an emergency situation in your restaurant?

This is where your expertise will come in hand. The customers will be quite alarmed of course. So you and your staff will have to make sure that you keep your cool then. Here is what you can do:

The person with the allergic reaction should be requested to sit still and not rush around in panic.

  • Give clear and precise information to the emergency operator.
  • Send someone outside to direct the rescue crew (ambulance) on their arrival.
  • Try to ascertain and reflect on which specific allergen caused the attack and make sure that the ambulance crew knows this.
  • Spread your knowledge about these deadly allergies to your friends and loved ones.

The more people are educated about this, the easier it will be to prevent and find effective cures for them.

On a smaller scale, educate your customers through charts and informative posters that you can hang around the walls of your restaurant.

You can also insist them to install the new super cool Qualizy App in their phones. This way, they can always double check whether what they are eating doesn’t include something that they are allergic to.

After all, customer care is the priority!

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