Navigating Food Allergies in Restaurants — How Small Improvements Can Make a Major Difference

Navigating Food Allergies in Restaurants

About 32 million people in the United States have food allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. With nine foods — including peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and sesame, to name just a few, causing the most food allergy reactions, there’s no question that restaurants are a major concern when it comes to dining with an allergy. From the facts on the matter to the simple ways that restaurants can implement helpful strategies, here’s what can be done to improve.

The necessity of education and training

Restaurants are the second most common location for food allergy reactions, according to one 2020 study, while less than 15% of reactions occur due to miscommunication. With that in mind, training restaurant staff to be kind, understanding, and knowledgeable about food allergies is essential in preventing an allergic reaction. Training should encompass everything from the basics of food allergies, as well as what to do in case a reaction does occur. Knowing the difference between an allergy and intolerance, for instance, is just one example of the basic knowledge that every restaurant staff member should be aware of.

Defined by the Mayo Clinic as an immune system reaction that occurs soon after eating a certain food — which can result in life-threatening symptoms such as swollen airways, a food allergy is generally avoided at all costs to prevent such a situation. Food intolerances, however, are often found via those such as milk intolerance, where the body isn’t able to digest the lactose in milk due to a lack of lactase in the small intestine. Usually, food intolerances aren’t life-threatening, but they can result in unpleasant symptoms (like bloating or stomach pain) if a certain food is consumed. For those that have taken a food intolerance test and confirmed intolerance to a certain food, avoiding the food when at a restaurant can help to avoid such symptoms.

Why transparency matters

For restaurants looking to create a safer environment for patrons who experience food allergies (and intolerances), being transparent about the ingredients used to create dishes is essential. This can be done by listing the ingredients used in every dish and keeping the information available for those who may need it. Similarly, being upfront about the common food allergy risks associated with dishes on the menu also aids in providing transparency in an easy way, and can be done via simple annotations on the menu. Having signs placed around the establishment that urge customers to share any allergies or intolerances can also help in setting the stage as well, and can help make for an easier experience for both the staff and the customer.

At any restaurant, handling food allergies and preventing reactions is essential in providing a safe dining experience for customers. Through proper training and knowledge (in addition to being transparent about the ingredients used), preventing an emergency situation can be made simple.

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