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Eating Dirt and Increasing Allergens

CDC has an on-line article in Emerging Diseases entitled Eating Dirt. The author explores the relationship of eating dirt and our health. He discusses the dance that has existed between bacteria in the soil and its beneficial effect on humans for millions of years. You see, one of the theories behind this steady rise of food allergies is the theory called the ‘hygiene hypothesis.’

The UCLA Drug and Allergy Care Center also explores this explanation to the increase in allergies. “The hygiene hypothesis states that excessive cleanliness interrupts the normal development of the immune system, and this change leads to an increase in allergies. In short, our “developed” lifestyles have eliminated the natural variation in the types and quantity of germs our immune systems needs for it to evolve into a less allergic, better-regulated state of being.” This increase in human allergies to food has led to the FDA compiling the top eight allergens and is requiring you to know what they are as of July 2013.

I am not suggesting that you add dirt to your menu. This being Portland, a Dirt Bar would probably not be considered unusual but cutting-edge healthy. What I am suggesting is that you and your staff have detailed knowledge of the top eight allergens and where and how they appear on your menu. You want your employees, front and back alike, to understand how cross-contamination with these top eight allergens can occur as well.

Let’s start with the code. OAR 333-150-0000, CHAPTER 1-201.10(B); 2-102.11©(9); 3-602.11(B)(5).

The person in charge must know the top eight allergens that account for 90% of all food-allergic reactions. They are milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy.

The person in charge must also know the symptoms a person might show when having an allergic reaction. A response could occur within minutes or hours, and symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening. This could include hives, flushed skin or rash, tingling or itchy sensation in the mouth, face, tongue, or lip swelling, vomiting and diarrhea, abdominal cramps, coughing or wheezing, dizziness and/or lightheadedness swelling of the throat and vocal cords, and difficulty breathing.

Action Plan

Set up a staff meeting. All employees should know about the top eight allergens and their symptoms since they are the ones dealing with the customers and cooking the food.

  • Have a contest to come up with a way to remember the top eight - I group in sets of 2 - eggs/milk, peanuts/tree nuts, fin fish/shellfish and wheat/soy.

  • Talk about cross-contamination. Ask front and back of the house about cross contamination. Where can it happen in your kitchen?

  • Think beyond cutting boards and knives – like dredging flour, fryers, and flat-top griddles. Front of house – Is the chicken sautéed in butter or oil? What kind of grease in the fryer… soy or peanut or blended? What oil is used in the salad dressing?

I witnessed a gal put avocado slices on a sandwich, reread the order and say “oh, allergic to avocados” pull the avocados off and started to wrap the sandwich. I stopped her as the sandwich was already potentially contaminated.

Here's a link to allergen information and a poster. This is an easy way for people to become familiar with them. It is also an awesome idea to break out the ingredients in your menu and highlight all the dishes that contain these allergens.

Since daily specials highlighting various local dirt and their different beneficial bacteria are not likely going to appear on your menu, you must adjust to this change in our physiology by being sensitive to these major food allergies. Empowering your staff with this knowledge could be a life-saving act.


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