As many as 15 million people in the USA (and 17 million Europeans) have some kind of food allergy.
As a restaurant owner, it’s crucial that your kitchen and staff have a process in place to indicate safe food-handling instructions for diners with food allergies. States like Massachusetts and Rhode Island require restaurants to display a food allergy awareness poster featuring the eight most common food allergies (developed by FARE) to protect diners.
But a poster is just the beginning. Many restaurants are requiring additional employee training that instructs staff how to handle customers with food allergies; everything from food preparation (and which utensils are used) to where ingredients are stored are crucial to preventing cross-contamination and keeping diners safe.
Types of food allergies
Most likely you’re familiar with these eight common types of food allergies:
- Milk allergy
- Egg allergy
- Wheat allergy
- Peanut allergy
- Tree nut allergy
- Fish allergy
- Shellfish allergy
- Soy allergy
Diners suffering from these allergies are typically able to find a menu-substitute to meet their needs, but if you’re fond of butter and cream-based sauces, be cognizant of a substitution for those with a dairy allergy.
Also be wary of cross-contamination, particularly for those with nut-based allergies like tree nuts and peanuts (yes, two different allergies). Nuts may emit a fine powder that could affect other ingredients in your pantry, so take care with their storage. Also clearly denote (and inform staff) which salad dressings might contain nuts (like cashew powder)—salad dressings are a hidden culprit as many diners don’t consider nuts are in them!
What is the difference between a food allergy versus a food intolerance?
A food allergy causes an immune system reaction that may affect various parts of the body and range from mild to severe or life-threatening. A food intolerance, however, tends to be less serious and instead affects your body’s digestive system.
‘Gluten-free’ has become marketing buzzword that’s put on everything from specialized pastas to homemade polish-style latkes at your local farmer’s market. Still unsure of what gluten actually is? Don’t fret, you’re not alone:
Gluten is in fact a protein found in wheat and related grains (like barley and rye). It’s what gives your pasta and bread dough elasticity and shape. Most diners who opt for gluten-free options are either gluten intolerant, or suffer from Celiac disease, an immune reaction to eating the protein gluten. In fact, a new study shows that nearly two million Americans have celiac disease, making it four times more common now than it was 50 years ago.
How do you prepare for diners with allergies or food intolerances? Do you have a special menu or are you prepared to customize your offerings?