TGPR’s Food Issues Group (FIG) Offers Tips to Manage Allergy Accommodations

restaurant kitchenThe Model Retail Food Code, which was modified by the FDA in 2009, says that the “person in charge” of a food establishment must know and understand food allergens and make sure employees are trained on handling food allergy guests and recognize allergy symptoms.

“Of all the issues that a restaurant or cafeteria must deal with, allergy accommodation may not be a priority,” says Jeff Nelken MA, RD (retired), an experienced professional in all aspects of food safety and a member of the TGPR’s Food Issues Group (FIG). “However, this can be a life threatening matter. There are roughly between 200 to 300 reported deaths due to food allergies each year. In addition, there are more than 30,000 emergency room admissions, half of which are due to foodservice-related situations.”

Major food allergens to watch out for include: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (such as almonds, walnuts and pecans), soybeans, wheat, fish and shellfish (such as crab, lobster and shrimp). Gluten is also becoming a growing concern.

Some tips to manage allergy accommodation include:

  • Written policy that is fully communicated to the entire staff
  • Allergy training should be documented and employees should be evaluated for competency Wait staff should be trained on how to effectively listen to the allergy concerns of patrons and how to communicate allergy needs to the kitchen staff.
  • Restaurant should have a master menu that lists all of the ingredients required for each dish in case a patron inquires. The days of “secret recipes” are long gone. Transparency is the new standard.
  • Allergy training should include a section that reviews the signs and symptoms of allergic reactions which could occur within minutes of exposure or as long as two hours.
  • Recognize the most frequent signs of allergies including: a) hives, itching, or skin rash; b) swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat, or other parts of the body; c) wheezing, nasal congestion or trouble breathing; d) abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting; e) dizziness, light-headedness or fainting.
  • Avoid cross contamination by cleaning all utensils, pans, cooking surfaces and cutting boards.
  • Verify safe cooking oils, marinades, sauces and seasonings.
  • Advisory notice on the menu that states if a person has a medical condition or food allergy to inform the server.
  • Designate one person in the front of the house to deliver allergy safe orders to patrons and one person in the back of the house to prepare it.
  • Allergy programs should be reviewed by a food health and safety expert before training and implementation.
  • Check the expiration date in EpiPen® often.

Allergy Facts:

  • Peanuts are the most common food allergen for children
  • Shellfish and peanuts are the most common food allergens with adults
  • Allergens can be transmitted in frying oil or steam

Serving Tips:

  • Sanitize menu jackets between uses
  • Replace condiment containers and holder with a set that has been sanitized
  • Set up a code on order slips that indicates the specific allergen to avoid for the kitchen
  • Have mock allergy rehearsals to test the efficacy of your allergy program
  • Check labels: tuna may contain casein, Worcestershire contains anchovies, soy sauce contains wheat

-Dan Grody, TGPR