• Lesson 5: Food Allergy Awareness for the Professional Kitchen

    A food allergy is a medical condition in which a person has an allergic reaction after eating a certain food. The allergic reaction occurs when the immune system attacks proteins in normally harmless foods. The proteins that trigger the reaction are called allergens.

    Food Allergy Research and Education estimates that 32 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.6 million children under the age 18. There is no cure for food allergies, and strictly avoiding allergens is the only way to prevent a reaction.

    Symptoms of an allergic reaction can range from mildly unpleasant responses, such as developing hives and experiencing digestive discomfort, to severe life-threatening responses such as anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that causes the immune system to release a flood of chemicals that can cause a person to go into shock. Blood pressure drops suddenly and airways narrow, blocking breathing. Signs and symptoms include a rapid, weak pulse; a skin rash; and nausea and vomiting. Anaphylaxis requires an epinephrine injection and a follow-up trip to an emergency room. If the person does not have epinephrine, they need to go to an emergency room immediately. Each year in the U.S., 200,000 people require emergency medical care for allergic reactions to food (Source: FARE "Facts and Statistics").

    A food intolerance is different from a food allergy, although a food intolerance may cause some of the same symptoms as a food allergy does, including nausea, vomiting, cramping, and diarrhea. A person with a food intolerance may be able to eat small amounts of problem foods without a reaction. A person with a true food allergy, however, will have an allergic reaction even if they ingest a tiny amount of an allergen.

    Through education and training, foodservice professionals can provide a safe and trusted dining experience for their customers, enhancing the guest experience by understanding and appreciating their specific needs.

    Foodservice operators should develop their own specific food allergy prevention protocols to minimize food allergy risks for their guests. The protocol should be specific to the restaurant’s setup and menus, addressing both kitchen and front-of-the-house operations.

    While more than 100 foods are known to cause allergic reactions, eight major food allergens are responsible for the majority of serious food allergy reactions.



    Shellfish is one of the more common food allergies, and reactions tend to be severe. Shellfish include all marine animals with shells, such as shrimp, crab, lobster, clams, mussels, oysters, and scallops as well as octopus and squid. Fish and shellfish are not the same, and someone who is allergic to one does not always mean they are allergic to the other.

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    Finned fish is one of the most common food allergies, and also causes severe reactions. This category encompasses all species of finned fish, including anchovies, bass, catfish, cod, flounder, grouper, haddock, hake, halibut, herring, mahi mahi, pollock, sole, salmon, snapper, swordfish, tilapia, trout, and tuna. Finned fish and shellfish are not related, and being allergic to one does not always mean that both must be avoided.

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    Peanuts can cause a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction, and even very small amounts of peanuts can cause one. Peanuts are not the same as tree nuts (such as almonds and pistachios), and being allergic to peanuts does not mean a person is allergic to tree nuts. Peanuts grow underground and are part of the legume family.

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    Tree Nuts


    Tree nuts include walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, chestnuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts, pecans, and pine nuts (pignolia). Tree nuts are not the same as peanuts, which are legumes. They are also not the same as seeds, such as sesame seeds, pepitas, or sunflower seeds.

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    Sensitivity to dairy products varies from person to person, and reactions can range from mild, such as hives, to severe, such as anaphylaxis. Allergies to cow’s milk is most common in infants and young children. Dairy products include butter, buttermilk, cheese, cottage cheese, cream, custard, ghee, half-and-half, milk pudding, sour cream, and yogurt.

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    Wheat is the most common grain product in the United States, and a wheat allergy reaction can range from mild to severe. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which the ingestion of gluten, the protein found in wheat, leads to damage in the small intestine. It is estimated to affect one in 100 people worldwide. Wheat can be found in breadcrumbs, bulgur, couscous, farro, wheat flour, pasta, soy sauce, baked goods, batter-fried and breaded foods, beer, and breakfast cereals. Wheat-free grain sources that customers allergic to wheat can enjoy are amaranth, barley, corn, oats, quinoa, rice, and rye.

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    Allergic reactions to soy are typically mild, but all reactions can be unpredictable. Soybean allergy is one of the more common food allergies, especially in children. Soybeans are widely used in manufactured food products, so identifying soy ingredients on food labels is critical. Soy is found in soy oil, edamame, soy sauce and tamari, miso, tempeh, tofu, and many vegetarian meat substitutes.

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    Egg allergy is one of the most common food allergies in children, second only to dairy allergies. The whites of an egg contain the proteins that cause allergic reactions. Symptoms of an egg allergy reaction can range from mild to severe. Eggs can be found in eggs and egg substitutes (dried, powdered, solids, whites, or yolks), eggnog, mayonnaise, meringue, baked goods, ice cream, marshmallows, and pasta.

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    General Awareness and Safety Recommendation for Avoiding Food Allergy Incidents

    Because every foodservice operation is different, it’s important that food operators develop their own food allergy awareness training and incident prevention plans. Training with front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house staff should include general food allergy awareness and menu-specific recommendations for avoiding food allergy incidents in your operation. It is the responsibility of every foodservice operator to prevent food allergy incidents from occurring in their operations. It’s also important that every restaurant employee understands the universal recommendations for preventing food allergies.

    Please note: the following information is provided for general understanding of food allergies and not intended to be a comprehensive food allergy prevention plan.

    • Thoroughly wash hands and use new gloves before handling food.
    • Thoroughly clean and sanitize all work surfaces, cooking areas, utensils, and kitchen equipment before preparing food.
      • Use soap and rinse thoroughly with hot water.
      • Wipe over surfaces with a food-approved sanitizer and clean towels.
      • Frequently clean and sanitize grills, ovens, salamanders, skillets, pots, pans, deep fryers, panini grills, toasters, pasta cookers, and other food appliances.
    • Designate a group of cutting boards, pots, pans, cutlery, tools, and other utensils specifically for the preparation of allergy-free meals. Remember that even trace amounts of a food allergen, such as peanuts or milk, can cause an allergic reaction.
    • Waitstaff and kitchen staff should have detailed knowledge of the menu, knowing all of the ingredients for every item on the menu. Waistaff and kitchen staff should be able to identify items on the menu that may cause an allergic reaction.
    • Waitstaff should immediately notify front- and back-of-the-house management whenever a customer announces they have a food allergy.
    • It’s important to inform guests with food allergies of any potential exposure to an allergen from cross contamination and/or normal restaurant operations.
    • Upon learning about a customer with a food allergy, it is recommended that the manager and server go to the table and speak directly with the guest to understand the specific food allergy.
    • Guests with food allergies should be advised and cautioned whenever there is the potential for their exposure to an allergen, even in trace amounts, due to normal restaurant operations, food processing, or inadvertent cross-contamination.
    • Remember that every guest with a food allergy is to be treated with the upmost care and respect.
    • Regardless of the guest’s sensitivity to an allergen, it should be understood that every food allergy has the potential to develop into a life-threatening situation.
    • Make your guests aware of your concern for their safety and well-being. This is an opportunity to make your guests feel welcome and appreciated.
    • Managers and waitstaff should be able to recommend safe menu alternatives and substitutions for their guests with food allergies.
    • Guests with food allergies should be identified by their seated position at the table with the guest’s order and food allergy clearly noted on the ordering ticket.
    • Before serving a guest with food allergies, the manager, server, and food preparer should each confirm that all ingredients used in the dish are free of any allergens.
    • Ensure that no cross-contamination occurs during the storage, preparation, cooking, or serving of the dish.
    • Ensure that every plate is clean and that it has not been cross-contaminated by food particles or debris.
    • In the service pickup area, ensure that the plate is covered and remains free of any cross-contamination.
    • Label the dish according to its food allergen to distinguish it from other meals.
    • Speak directly with the waitstaff to ensure that the guest’s order stays free of any cross-contamination before it is served.

    The information contained in this lesson is meant to increase your general awareness of food allergies and how you can better serve guests who have them. This video lesson is for information purposes only. It is not intended to be an all-inclusive education on food allergies nor to establish an official protocol for handling food allergies in your foodservice establishment. For more information about food allergies, go to

    Keeping Food Safe is Everybody’s Job

    Even though specific food safety tasks may be assigned to certain restaurant workers, it’s the entire staff’s responsibility to keep food safe. Excellent personal hygiene is a must for every employee. Every kitchen should have seperate sinks for hand washing and food prep. As you are probably aware, every locality mandates routine and frequent hand washing for anyone handling food.

    Downloadable Handout: FARE’s How to Avoid Cross-Contact

    Source: Food Allergy Research and Education,