In the U.S. alone, its estimated that about 15 million people have food allergies. Food allergies account for 200,000 emergency room visits a year. The FDA requires food manufacturers to list common ingredients that trigger food allergies in food allergy labeling.
People with food allergies can have severe (sometimes life-threatening), unpredictable reactions. People with food intolerance experience less severe reactions involving the digestive system.
The top food allergies are common ingredients that may appear in many popular restaurant dishes.
Common Food Allergies
The top ingredients that account for most allergic reactions are:
- Milk: This is the most common allergy in infants and children. Sufferers must avoid cow’s milk. Foods that may contain milk include butter, cheese, cream, custard, chocolate, pudding, and yogurt. Milk allergy symptoms include hives and anaphylaxis.
- Eggs: This is the second most common allergy in children. Egg whites have proteins that cause allergic reactions. Foods that may contain eggs include eggnog, mayonnaise, ice cream, baked goods, pasta, pretzels, and marshmallows. Egg allergy symptoms include hives and anaphylaxis.
- Peanuts: One of the most common food allergies, peanuts grow underground. Very small amounts of peanut can cause a reaction. People with peanut allergies have a higher chance of being allergic to tree nuts. Foods that may contain peanuts include mixed nuts, peanut butter, candy, egg rolls, ice cream, and pancakes.
- Tree nuts: Tree nuts include walnut, almond, hazelnut, cashew, and pistachio. Small amounts can cause a reaction. People with a tree nut allergy are often recommended to avoid all nuts. Foods that may contain tree nuts include coconut, macadamia nut, marzipan, pesto, cookies, candies, energy bars, marinades, and nut butters, milks, and oils,
- Fish and shellfish: Common fish include salmon, tuna and halibut. Crustacea (shrimp, crab and lobster) cause more reactions than mollusks (clams, mussels, oysters and scallops). Small amounts can cause a reaction. Cross contact is possible in seafood restaurants. Many people with fish or shellfish allergies have their first reaction as adults.
Food Allergies and Restaurants
With food allergies increasing, more restaurants are accommodating people with food allergies. Some steps include:
- Ask about food allergies when taking reservations and at the table
- Relax “no substitutions” policies
- Special dishes
- Detailed menu descriptions
- Print separate menus
- Allergen flagging and anti-cross contact procedures
- Servers explain which dishes are allergen free
- Kitchen staff training
- Server training
Diners with Food Allergies
People with food allergies often carry an epinephrine auto-injector with them at all times. They also read food labels carefully. So, they are used to taking the necessary precautions. That includes when dining out. People with food allergies should mention allergies when making a reservation and when ordering in the restaurant.
Why Accommodate Food Allergies?
Reasonably accommodating guests with food allergies is simply part of being a good host. And it makes good business sense. With allergies growing, allergy-friendly restaurants and menus are increasing as well. If you help a guest avoid a nasty reaction, you’ve likely created a loyal, repeat customer.
Many fatal food reactions occur outside the home at food establishments. A food-allergy related death at your restaurant will be extremely bad for business.
Food Allergy Training
Consistent, comprehensive food safety training is the best way to effectively accommodate food allergies and prevent reactions in your restaurant. All employees should be trained about the common food allergies, ingredients, menus, and cross contamination.