According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA.org) 60 million Americans (roughly 1 in 5) suffer from allergies and asthma. It’s quite the statistic.
And out of those, according to AAFA, three to eight percent of children and one to two percent of adults have food allergies, which in the restaurant and hospitality business translates to the reality that any guest at any time can suffer from a food-related allergic reaction while dining at your establishment.
So, how do you protect guests from suffering serious or even deadly allergy attacks? Start by educating yourself and your staff, stat!
What is a Food Allergy? Usually those with food allergies have immune systems that react to foreign substances rather than protecting against them. Typically, there are antibodies to the allergens in our blood and throughout our bodies. But when allergy sufferers eat food to which they are sensitive, the food allergens react to antibodies in cells releasing chemicals.
Do Any Foods Cause the Most Reactions? AAFA reports that any food can cause an allergic reaction, but only eight key foods cause nine out of ten reactions. They are: milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish.
How Soon Will an Allergic Reaction Occur? Normally if an allergy is present, the reaction time can be within minutes to two hours after consuming an allergen. How soon and how severe the reaction is depends on how sensitive the person is to the food, amount consumed and other food consumed. Also, the manner in which food is prepared can also be a factor.
Symptoms? Reactions may vary, but primary signs to look for are: initially, there may be swelling/itching of the lips/mouth; throat tightness/hoarseness and hives; then as food begins to go through the digestive track, symptoms such as wheezing, nausea, cramping, vomiting, rapid pulse or faintness, itching of palms/soles of feet and in severe cases, the patient may even lose consciousness.
Stay Current and Informed. Contact a local professional allergist to come in and educate staff on allergy causes, symptoms, appropriate reactions and what medications (if any) to keep on hand. Also, it is imperative that servers ask each table if any guest has any known allergies. Hence, staff should be well versed on all current menu offerings/ingredients/food preparations and be able to offer allergic guests safe dish options.
If a guest suffers an allergic reaction in your establishment, it is recommended to ask anyone else in their party if he/she carries an antidote (such as antihistamines, steroids or injectable epinephrine like EpiPen or Ana-Kit) to utilize. Next option would be to ask any other guests in the restaurant if they might also be able to assist with an antidote, and have someone call 911/ emergency immediately.
As with any element of concern for the welfare of your guests and staff, education and diligence are always the best defense.
Photo/stats courtesy of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA.org).