Food allergies are one of the biggest threats for people when dining out. This type of allergy accounts for 35% to 50% of all allergies observed in people. Between 2003 to 2006, about 317,000 people were admitted to hospitals and other health centers due to allergic reaction to food. These numbers are increasing.
Unfortunately, most people working in restaurants do not understand this.
According to a survey conducted by researchers from the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, an alarming number of restaurant staffers have no idea how allergies operate. For example, a portion of the respondents believe that giving a glass of water to a person suffering from an allergic attack can help alleviate the problem. Another group said that people with allergies would not have any problems if they eat only a small amount. And there are still those who insist that eating allergy-causing foods like nuts would not cause any reaction.
This is alarming news, especially for children in the United States. Based on statistics, about three million American children are allergic to certain foods, especially with the big eight: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish. It could mean serious illness or death if an allergic reaction occurs.
Even the notion of removing allergy-causing foods on the plate is wrong. Cross-contamination of allergens is a tricky business in the restaurant front. Even a small amount of allergen can be enough to trigger a deadly reaction. For example, a spatula used to spread peanut butter on one dish was also used to spread chocolate cream on another. With restaurant staff usually being poorly-trained and poorly-paid, it is not surprising that this kind of mistake can happen.
Another concern is information. In the United States, choking hazard posters are required to be on display in restaurants. The question here is: why not have an allergy hazard poster also on display? Something as simple as this, plus frequent communication of the chef and the serving crew, can help reduce the risk of food allergies.
Although the restaurant survey results were collected in the United Kingdom, it does have relevance in the United States. While cleanliness and sterilization are emphasized, it would be better if additional training in handling food allergy cases could be added to food service programs. This would help food handlers in restaurants and catering services to be better prepared in the event of an emergency.
Simply put, additional training and information dissemination is in order to train personnel in handling food allergies. By providing a proper venue for food safety and allergic reaction, that smiling face of the waiter when he serves can be a viewed as a guarantee of food safety.