Fact #1: Did you know that 90% of all food-allergy reactions come from only eight types of food?
Fact #2: Did you also know that experts actually refer to that dreaded food group as the “Big Eight?”
While that group name might sound a little extravagant, those allergens are actually some of the most common ingredients you’ll find in many dishes being cooked at home, restaurants, or other food establishments. Which explains why most individuals are having a rather difficult time in completely excluding those allergens from their diet.
What are the Top 8 Food Allergens?
The top eight common food allergens are eggs, tree nuts (such as hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, and macadamia nuts), cow’s milk, peanuts, fish, shellfish (such as crab, lobster, and shrimp), soybeans, and wheat. Sesame, on the other hand, is widely considered as the ninth common allergen.
While individuals may choose to test their luck against allergens every now and then, food businesses and restaurant managers cannot afford to operate without adhering to local and national standards when serving customers with food allergies. In fact, the National Restaurant Association has recently identified food allergy among the most prevalent food safety concerns over the last decade.
More than ever, it’s become more important to familiarize not just your food manager and kitchen staff, but also your waiters, servers, and bartenders with these common allergy-inducing triggers:
- Egg. A person who has an active egg allergy must be wary of more than just scrambled or fried eggs. After all, this particular allergen is used in many recipes, especially when baking. The good news? Ener-G foods sells an egg-replacer that can be used in place of egg, egg white, and egg yolk.
- Wheat. Wheat can be found in a variety of everyday products and not just food. As a general rule, it’s best to use wheat-free and gluten-free products when dealing with customers who have allergies to these ingredients.
- Soy. Aside from tofu and soy sauce, soy is also a common ingredient in many other products. So, if you’re serving someone with soy allergy, it’s critical to go through the ingredient label again, especially on items like packaged mixes, cereals, miso, natto, baked goods, imitation meats, margarine, and even snacks. Alternatively, you can try Earth Balance Natural Spreads to mimic the flavor of soy in some recipes.
- Tree nuts and peanuts. Nuts are usually found in baking ingredients, snacks, candies, and your favorite Asian foods. Luckily, sunflower or soy butter products, which are easily accessible, can be used as common alternatives, as long as consumers don’t have soy allergies that can cross over.
- Cow’s milk. The closest alternative to cow’s milk would be soy milk. However, it’s important to keep in mind that a lot of people also have soy among their allergy triggers. If you absolutely need to rule out soy as a substitute, you can consider products like Tofutti (sour cream) among many others.
- Fish and shellfish. Crustacean shellfish is easily found in sea urchin, sea cucumber, crab, shrimp, cuttlefish, and lobster; while fish can be unsuspectingly featured in items like Worcestershire sauce, Caesar dressings, and gelatin. Unlike other allergens on this list, no single ingredient will replace the nutrition or taste that fish can offer. It’s best to tap on the customer’s other preference first before you offer a different meat or other possible alternatives.
What Happens When You Have Allergies to Foods?
Having a food allergy will usually produce a physical response to eating, handling or being around certain foods. There are many symptoms of food allergies that you may experience if you happen to interact in some way with a food allergen you are sensitive to:
- Nausea, vomiting or cramps
- Hives or rash
- Breathing difficulty or wheezing
- Swelling of the throat and mouth parts
- Dizziness and or fainting
- A weakened pulse
- Anaphylactic response
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.
Having any of these symptoms or a combination of them may even be life threatening. Understanding the risks for yourself or others can be lifesaving. Ultimately, you must set your eyes beyond the so-called “Big Eight,” and look into introducing the entire staff to Allergen training before they even start attending to customers. After all, employees need to be adept in identifying symptoms of food allergies as well as in determining action plans that should be timely executed when someone is suffering from allergic reactions.