The State of Food Allergies in the United States
You do all you can to comply with food safety regulations, but food allergies and intolerances are on the rise. Researchers estimate up to 15 million Americans have food allergies.1

In the first installment in the Food Allergy 101 series, we want to start with the basics so you have the information necessary to promote inclusiveness and to be a better dining partner for every guest.
 

What Happens When a Guest Has an Allergic Reaction?
When someone consumes an ingredient they’re allergic to, the immune system overreacts in response to the body incorrectly interpreting certain food proteins as dangerous. The symptoms could be noticeable within a few minutes or a few hours. They can be mild—or fatal. Potential symptoms include:
Skin rash, stomach cramps, diarrhea, swelling of the lips, tongue and throat.
Severe reactions include: acute breathing difficulties and anaphylactic shock (difficulty breathing along with a drop in blood pressure and dizziness, which can be fatal)
 

Most Common Allergens in the US

While a guest may be allergic to practically any ingredient, these 8 items account for 90% of food allergies, and are the food sources from which many other ingredients are derived.2 It’s a good idea to take caution and read food labels carefully since the presence of allergens may not always be obvious.

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish (e.g. bass, flounder, cod)
  • Crustacean shellfish (e.g. crab, lobster, shrimp)
  • Tree nuts (e.g. almonds, walnuts, pecans)
  • Peanuts
  • Wheat
  • Soybeans

Prevention Is Critical

The best way to react to a guest who identifies they have a food allergy is to be prepared. Your front-of-house and back-of-house staff become crucial when the situation arises. Instruct them to be patient and accommodating in those circumstances. If a server has any questions about the ingredients in a menu item, they must have an open line of communication to appropriately deliver information to the diner—regardless of how much time it takes or number of trips from the kitchen to the table. Everyone wants to enjoy dining out without worries of becoming ill.
 
In the next installment of Food Allergy 101, we’ll look at the difference between food intolerance and allergies.
 
1 US: FARE, foodallergy.org (https://www.foodallergy.org/facts-and-stats)
2 US FDA, FDA.gov; (http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm079311.htm)