Doing it right. Food Allergens and Labeling

Updated: May 31



In growing up in a household with six children, it was not uncommon to hear one of them announce at the dinner table that they were allergic to eggplant, broccoli or fish sticks in an attempt to get out of eating it.  My parents never considered it to be remotely possible or expressed concern, but today food allergies are a different story.  

As an owner or food service operator, you need to know a few things about food allergies to protect your customers and yourself from a potentially dangerous situation.  An allergic reaction occurs when someone’s immune system mistakenly believes that something the person ate is harmful to the body and begins an attack.


This restaurant wraps up sandwiches for the ‘grab and go section.’ Note the allergens are listed in addition to the ingredients list. You are also required to have the product name or identity, name and address of the responsible facility, a use by date, and ‘keep refrigerated’ if it contains temperature controlled for safety ingredients on any items packaged ‘to-go’ and out for customer to grab.

Responsibility as a Food Service Provider

Ability to disclose if needed

As a food service operator, you not only need to be aware of the potential allergens but you must able to disclose to your customer upon request, the big eight allergens. 


The Big 8

According to the FDA, 90% of allergic reactions are associated with eight very common ingredients.  They are milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat.  These can be found in packaged products you may be using, disguised as a processing agent, so you will most likely need to do some research. 


Your right to know

You need to become familiar with all of the ingredients that make up your menu.  For example, things that may be overlooked are the dry tempura mix you use with your shrimp, the shortening in your fryer, to all the ingredients in your pork breakfast sausages.  Your food service rep will be able to track down every ingredient in each product that they sell you.  It is your right and responsibility to know what the thickeners, stabilizers, emulsifiers, and bulking agents are in any product you purchase and sell.


Inform and Educate your Staff

Your wait staff should also be familiar with the menu items and which foods might contain potential allergens.   There should always be a person in charge in the kitchen that can answer all questions a customer may have regarding menu items.  Your chef or kitchen manager can list a breakdown of each menu item and post it somewhere in the kitchen where the wait staff has easy access to it. Your team needs not only to know the menu items, their preparations, and ingredients but also be able to identify symptoms of an allergic reaction as well.  


Symptoms

Symptoms usually occur within a few minutes or up to an hour after consuming the offending food.

The most common allergic reactions are;

  • Hives, swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat,

  • Wheezing, nasal congestion, or trouble breathing

  • Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting

  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting

  • Flushed skin or rash

  • Tingling or itchy sensation in the mouth

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Anaphylaxis - an acute allergic reaction to an antigen (e.g. peanut butter) to which the body has become hypersensitive.

This can cause life-threatening symptoms quickly. You would call emergency medical services (911) immediately!

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