Young woman feeling upset about her multiple allergies

Plenty of people subscribe to what some may refer to as an “alternative” diet; a diet excluding common ingredients such as wheat, dairy, eggs, meat, tree nuts and countless other items. Maybe a personal preference to some, but for others, lives could depend on such diets due to allergies or dietary needs.

Eight major food allergens

Restaurant workers may not be as knowledgeable as they should be when it comes to ingredients that shouldn’t be served to guests with alternative dietary lifestyles. If people from many walks of life can keep track of exactly what they are allergic to or do not eat, then certainly restaurant workers, provided with the right education, can prevent serving their customers the wrong ingredients. The importance of allergen education in restaurants must be emphasized during training and in everyday restaurant operation to ensure all food handlers are properly versed on what ingredients should or should not be served to customers based on their orders.

In an international study, researchers randomly selected 295 restaurant staff from 15 districts of Düsseldorf, Germany, and surveyed the workers’ knowledge on food allergies, according to an April 24 CNN article. Only 30% of the sample of restaurant workers could correctly list three top food allergens. Germany is a particularly progressive country when it comes to commercialized diets. Germany launched more vegan food products (absent of meat, dairy, fish, eggs and occasionally honey) than any other country in 2016, according to a Mintel research agency study.

This consensus is problematic because that indicates the 70% remainder of restaurant workers may be likely to serve customers food containing ingredients they shouldn’t ingest.

“[An estimated] 32 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.6 million children,” according to Food Allergy Research and Education.

Nearly 40% of children with food allergies are allergic to more than one food. Given these assessments, it could be more likely for an allergic individual, who does vocalize their allergy or preferred modification, to be served the food they are allergic to, which could easily result in a trip to the emergency room.

“[When people have] an allergic reaction, the cells respond and release the chemicals they have inside, causing inflammation and swelling” Yvette Glickstern, a registered nurse at an allergist’s practice said. “The blood vessels open, and in severe cases, could lead to incapacitation and possibly death.” Customers’ lives are potentially on the line while ordering at restaurants and rely on the discretion of the servers and cooks to make sure they aren’t served anything that will cause a reaction. Most often, people with not only  allergies, but also particular dietary limitations, will specifically vocalize their allergy or preference while ordering. After this point, the accountability lies in the restaurant workers’ ability to identify and anticipate potential undesired ingredients from contaminating the customer’s food.

“Incidents when people have a known allergen and it [still] gets into their food are less common. [However], when people order and don’t speak up and make sure [their allergen] is not in the food — then they have a problem,” Glickstern said. ”Sometimes it’s a hidden ingredient that was unexpected.” Hidden ingredients are ultimately not always foreseeable, which is why transparency in restaurant environments is imperative to the safety and comfort of its customers.

Illinois Food Handler Training is a required course for any food handler in the state of Illinois. This course teaches appropriate food preparation and storage, as well as the top allergens.

“Illinois Food Handler Training is a course that can be taken in two 30-minute sessions in real time, and we also offer an online course,” Francisco Diaz, representative of State Food Safety said. “Each restaurant worker is required to [complete the course] with a passing grade of 70. [Each chapter of the curriculum is] featured equally, and any new information [on allergens] is updated based on information from the Health Department.” If every restaurant worker in the state is required to take this course on how to handle food, and thus allergy and ingredient awareness and protocol, then perhaps the standards of the Health Department must be improved to effectively accommodate. More emphasis on knowledge of food allergens and ingredients must be applied to restaurant workers’ training to effectively prevent serving customers the ingredients they specifically wish to avoid.