Food allergies are an unspoken epidemic. They have been on the rise and are reportedly affecting over 32 million Americans. The food service industry can help minimize allergic reactions by being mindful and educated on how to prevent them. Many foodservice workers aren’t educated on food allergies or aren’t required to have any sort of food allergy training. Here are some reasons why being trained on food allergies is a crucial part of the foodservice industry.
Some may think an allergic reaction is a small rash or a fever, but for most, it can be life or death. Fatal allergic reactions account for 150-200 deaths and 30,000 emergency room visits a year. Learning to recognize when someone is having an allergic reaction can be vital in saving someone's life.
Anaphylactic shock is a life-threatening allergic reaction that can occur when exposed to even the smallest amount of an allergen. Common symptoms to look for include swelling and tingling in the face, coughing and lightheadedness. The key to treating any serious allergic reaction is to act quickly and stay calm.
When preparing a special order for a food allergy, there are necessary steps one must take. It’s essential to avoid cross contact with the allergen, no matter how much or how little it comes in contact with the food you're preparing. There are many forms of cross contamination and cross contact that can result in a serious allergic reaction for the customer.
According to the CDC, almost half of fatal allergic reactions were caused by restaurants or other food service businesses in the past 13 years. This is exactly why foodservice workers must be proactive about the food they are preparing and serving. Selling contaminated food can not only be detrimental to someone with a food allergy, but also the business’s reputation and wellbeing.
Creating a Comfortable Environment
When your customers know that you’ve taken the necessary precautions when it comes to allergens, they’re more likely to return to your business. Establishing these personal relationships through trust guarantees loyal customers. The extra work you put in to ensure the safety of your customers doesn’t go unnoticed.
Another great way to make your guests feel welcome is to ask if they have any allergies or preferences when you first greet them. Having an open line of communication is a simple yet effective way to make your guests feel safe in your establishment.
Assessing your skills and level of preparation
If you’ve already completed food handler training or passed a Certified Food Protection Manager exam you may be wondering whether or not you really need to complete an allergen awareness training. You already know what the major food allergens are, so why do you need to do ANOTHER course?
Learning about the major allergens is a valuable first step, but there is so much more to cover. An allergen awareness training will dive further into the risks and consequences behind allergic reactions, describe more about the variety of allergens and intolerances, and provide in-depth guidelines for protecting anyone with food allergies. You will also have the opportunity to explore real-life scenarios which will help you feel confident in your ability to protect customers with food allergies and intolerances.
Responsibilities according to the FDA
According to the 2022 FDA Food Code, managers (or persons-in-charge) must demonstrate knowledge of the major food allergens including what foods are identified as containing the major food allergens and symptoms that an individual would experience with an allergic reaction. Managers are also responsible for ensuring the whole team is properly trained in food safety, including food allergy awareness, as it relates to their assigned duties.
Utilizing an accredited allergen awareness training program saves managers time by ensuring that all staff are knowledgeable about the major food allergens and their symptoms. Training can be completed all at once or assigned to new hires as they begin work and takes one more thing off the manager’s plate. Even if the training isn’t provided to the whole staff, completion by a manager can help them feel more confident in their ability to lead their own training for the team. It can also help managers and owners make an allergy plan for their establishment. Don’t face a health inspection without being sure that you and your team can answer any questions about food allergies.
There are many benefits to food allergy training that go beyond the reasons listed above. When you take the initiative to learn about allergens and allergic reactions, you are taking the steps necessary to create a more inclusive foodservice environment. People with food allergies deserve to feel protected in restaurants and enjoy a safely-prepared meal. Everyone deserves a spot at the table (literally), so let's start with getting educated.