food allergies

How Restaurants Handle Food Allergies

Guest Blog Post Written By: Lydia Wisz from Food Wisz-dom


I was glad to read this article in spite of the unwanted fear it mustered up in me. I was away this past weekend and realized this article could not have come at a better time to read. Its all about food allergies — almost everyone knows someone who has one of these.


As we both ordered our meals at various restaurants that we went to, it came to me that — “wow, this is different.” We were asked if we had any known food allergy or food sensitivity as soon as we sat at our table. Fortunately, we both answered no, but in really thinking about this question, there is no doubt that there is a definite rise in food allergies/intolerances everywhere.


Restaurants need to know how to handle food allergies — their businesses rely on it, but more than that, a life can rely on it. Now-a-days there can be any number of allergies ranging from Celiacs disease, gluten-free sensitivities, vegetarian, vegan, tree nut-free, dairy-free or shellfish-free allergies.


Today, there is “an estimated 15 million Americans have food allergies. And that number is on the rise: a 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study revealed that food allergies among children increased 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. It’s a so far inexplicable phenomenon.”


There is a distinction among chefs who would prefer to not even serve a person with an allergy or to other chefs who strongly believe that there needs to be better precautions taken with food service.


The verbatim explanation below comes from the article and is worth mentioning again because of its critical importance:
“Explainer: Food Allergies vs. Food Intolerances
The misuse use of the word “allergy” seems to be the culprit behind much of the misunderstandings between restaurants and their patrons. It’s important to make the distinction between a food allergy and a food intolerance. People with allergies are at a more severe and immediate risk than those with food intolerances or celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder. Here’s a quick breakdown of each:


The eight most common food allergens — which non-profit Food Allergy Research & Education reports are responsible for 90 percent of food-allergic reactions — are peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish.


But it’s possible to have an allergy to pretty much anything, including gelatin or even lettuce. Doctors Julie Kuriakose and Tim Mainardi of Hudson Allergy in New York City say that allergies to fruits and vegetables are common, more so than one might think, and are related to hay fever.


Any amount of a food allergen can produce a reaction. Kuriakose and Mainardi point out that even a molecule of a food allergen can cause an allergic reaction, which is why restaurants are encouraged to establish completely separate food-allergen-free prep areas and/or sanitize kitchen equipment thoroughly when preparing an allergy-free meal. (No, a hot grill will not burn off the allergens.) Even worse, steam can transfer these food proteins into the air, which is why Kuriakose and Mainardi tell their patients to sit away from the kitchen.


Allergies can manifest in everything from digestive problems to hives to the life-threatening reaction that is anaphylaxis. In anaphylaxis, the immune system releases histamine and other chemicals that might impair breathing or blood circulation. Kuriakose and Mainardi say that a reaction is considered to be anaphylaxis if it impairs one’s breathing or involves two organs, including the skin. Symptoms of anaphylaxis can be reversed with a shot of epinephrine via an EpiPen; anyone suffering anaphylaxis should also go hospital even after using an EpiPen.


Finally, allergic reactions are unpredictable. Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) Vice President of Education Mike Spigler says that one shouldn’t think of allergies as mild or severe. It is the reaction itself that is mild or severe, and a person’s past experience with reactions cannot predict future reactions. “Two of the young people that died last year of food allergy anaphylaxis had never had a severe reaction,” Spigler says. Even a person who hasn’t had an allergic reaction in decades could suddenly suffer anaphylaxis.
Food Intolerances


Food intolerances are not life-threatening. Food intolerances share some of the same symptoms as food allergies, but cannot produce anaphylaxis. Still, they can be pretty miserable.
Food intolerances involve the digestive rather than the immune system. According to the American Gastroenterological Association, common intolerances include lactose, wheat and gluten products, sugar, and corn products. The main symptoms are digestive pain or discomfort, which can be constantly present in the lives of some sufferers. Eater Austin editor Meghan McCarron says, “I’m used to feeling mildly ill a lot, and am always grateful when I leave a restaurant feeling 100% great.”


Sometimes also considered a food intolerance, celiac disease is technically an autoimmune disorder caused by gluten. When people with celiac disease eat gluten, their body’s immune response attacks the small intestine, which can cause long-term health complications. According to the Mayo Clinic, this intestinal damage can prevent the absorption of some nutrients, which can affect one’s brain, nervous system, bones, liver, and other organs over time. In the short term, celiac disease can also cause uncomfortable symptoms such as diarrhea and weight loss.


People with specific food intolerances might be able to ingest small amounts of that particular food item without becoming sick. In restaurants, they may avoid ordering dishes with lactose or wheat — or request special dishes — but sample from the plates of their dining companions to test the limits of their intolerance, which can be hard to predict. “If someone says this has a drop of soy sauce in it and you say, ‘Okay I will try that,’ then you worry they think you’re lying,” says McCarron. “When really you’re just taking a gamble because you’d like to try your food.”