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Does it seem to anyone else that almost out of nowhere, all of a sudden, people are expressing food allergies in amazing numbers? 

According to the FAAN (Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network) “Approximately 12 million people in the U.S. have food allergies. That’s 1 in 25, or 4% of the population.”  The impact of this customer coming through your door to eat at your location is huge. Also noted on the FAAN site is that each year, some 30,000 Americans require emergency room treatment for allergic reactions to food that occur in all types of food service environments. Further, between 150-200 people die each year from a food allergy.    

Staff training:

As I was doing research for this blog, I found an alarming number of stories of individuals that have a food allergy or sensitivity and were given bad information by a staff member of a restaurant. Listening to the stories of people ending up in the ER because of a miss informed employee is not only a shame for the person that has to go through the traumatic event but a reputation killer for the restaurant itself. 

Teach your staff well and make sure they know 2 key phrases:

1. Is that a preference or an allergy?

2. I do not know if it contains _____. Let me go check for you.

Are more laws coming?

In Massachusetts as of Feb. 1, 2011, a state law was put into place requiring restaurants to have signs on take out menus and on the walls of eating establishments that simply state that the customers are responsible to alert servers about their food allergies.  Per The Health Administrator, Larry Ramdin, every location that serves food both take out and dine-in must have someone on staff that has been trained by watching a video that teaches how to answer the call for preparation for allergy-safe food.

Time will tell if the other states that have this type of legislation on the horizon will in fact walk that same path. The 30-minute educational MA video followed by a test adimistered by a consultant is just a small start to help fix the full concern, but it is actually a massive step for those that can ask a server with more confidence in Boston if there is a specific allergen in a dish. 

Real solutions are around the corner

Today, software is being developed that will allow restaurants to identify ingredients as well as the deep dive, sub-ingredients in every menu item they serve. 

Maybe because I spend each and every day looking at menus, recipes, ingredients, and sub ingredients I see clearly how simple (but not easy) identifying allergens can be. Everyone from fast casual to pizza to fine dining is working on the best way to display the nutritional information and how to put it in the best light.

I would like to add one more piece to that pie ~ menu labeling is one step towards the wonderful opportunity to identify not only the Big 8 Allergens but all ingredients. Make sure that if and when you display allergen information that you know exactly what you are talking about because you just might be staking someone’s life on it.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Donna Feldman
    While claims of food sensitivities are increasing, actual verifiable food allergy incidence is questionable. I've worked in food allergy for decades and heard it all, from allergy to sugar (a physiological impossibility) to fad sensitivities like the current anti-gluten craze. One wonders why people in France or Italy, with a long history of high gluten intake, aren't all keeling over from gluten intolerance. Restaurants are now in the difficult position of having to pay attention to every customer claim, valid or not, because you really don't want to miss the real one. The best strategy would be to just create dishes that are known to be free of offending ingredients, advertise them as such, and leave the choice up to the customer. Asking poorly trained staff to re-work a dish on the spot to omit something is asking for trouble.
  • Betsy Craig
    Well said Donna! Your solution of creating dishes that would work for all would be a super answer for some restaurants. I completely agree. Thanks for jumping in.
    All the Best!
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Betsy Craig
Betsy Craig brings 20 years of food service industry experience to MenuTrinfo, LLC a menu nutritional labeling Company. Her commitment to the betterment of the food industry and her desire to affect the dining public are the driving forces behind her new company Kitchens with Confidence, LLC.
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