We've all read the headlines about restaurant patrons having an allergic reaction after being served food items contaminated with the cause of the reaction. While in a majority of cases these reactions have not been fatal they can be life threatening. According to a 2007 study by the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), there were 63 food allergy–related fatalities between 1996 and 2006, with half involving restaurants.
While it's true that much has been done to educate kitchen and wait staff on safe food-handling practices, continued instruction in this area could be the difference between life or death for one of your patrons. Afterall, there is a big difference between food items people are intolerant to, such as gluten, and items that result in an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions are often more severe and could require hospitalization, especially if a diner goes into anaphylactic shock. Meanwhile, a person with a gluten-free intolerance may experience mild to extreme discomfort if introduced to gluten, yet would unlikely be in a fight-for-life situation.
Three years ago, my company introduced AllerTrain, a food-safety course, designed to teach foodservice operators and staff how to handle customers with food allergy or gluten intolerances. This certification course teaches staff how to identify allergic reactions, emergency procedures, and standard operating procedures in the wake of an allergy-sensitive diner.
Recently, we added Train the Trainer to our suite of AllerTrain offerings. Train the Trainer is an educational course for food safety trainers in an effort to keep them up-to-date on the latest food safety practices.
We started this new program because the people who are teaching foodservice professionals about food safety practices need to know everything there is about allergens and serving people with food allergies. It is our goal to add this extra layer of training to continue the education mission food-safety trainers provide. It's what I call food safety on steroids.
Different programs such as the ones provided by the NRA's ServSafe and the National Environmental Health Association have done a wonderful job of food safety and so this is just an extra step in that training.
The importance of this particular training has to do with the level of service people with food allergies and special diets need. There have been an increased number of diners with food allergies in the U.S. and it's our job to ensure the lives and health of these diners are protected. According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), there are an estimated 15 million Americans with food allergies. Meanwhile, more than 17 million Europeans have a food allergy. Additionally, a food allergy sends someone to the emergency room every three minutes, which equates to more than 200,000 ER visits per year, according to FARE.
Because people travel, they have to eat out, which is why it's more important than ever that we, as an industry, continue to learn and implement best practices. As an industry, I really feel like we're playing catch up.
There is no other solution than continued training and education.