How Can I Prevent Allergic Reactions?
When preparing a meal, cutting chicken on the same cutting board that you used to chop up shrimp doesn’t seem like a big deal. But to someone with a shellfish allergy, that act alone could be life threatening. One simple mistake could easily give a customer an allergic reaction. Attention to detail is important in preventing such reactions.
One thing that is commonly overlooked is cross-contact. This causes a transfer of allergens to a food that would typically be safe for consumption, but now poses a risk to the allergic person. Cutting boards, knives, pots, pans, and so much more can cause cross-contact with other foods, spreading the allergens.
Prevention of cross-contact can be simple. Let’s begin by discussing how an allergen can trigger a reaction, the most common food allergens to be aware of, and finally three methods used to avoid causing these reactions in your customers.
What Causes an Allergic Reaction
An allergy happens when your body decides that a substance (an allergen) should not be allowed in your body. When that allergen is introduced into your body, your immune system releases antibodies.
These antibodies are proteins which act as messengers to your cells that let them know that the substance must be stopped. The cells release histamine, causing the blood vessels to expand, triggering an allergic reaction. Antibodies only target one type of allergen. This is why people can have allergies to one thing but not another.
Allergic reactions range in severity, but always come with the risk of death. Symptoms may include diarrhea, vomiting, indigestion, hives, rash, tingling lips, difficulty swallowing, and difficulty breathing. Always take customers who claim to have food allergies seriously. You do not want your restaurant to be responsible for someone having an allergic reaction.
Common Food Allergens
There are 8 major food allergens that manufacturers are required to label on products. In owning a restaurant, allergen labeling is not required, but it’s important to recognize these allergens to ensure a safe experience for your consumers. Although many allergies exist, the eight major allergens are:
- Tree nuts
It is important for both servers and chefs to be respectful and sensitive when dealing with people who have food allergies. Do not assume that they simply do not like the ingredient or are being picky eaters.
Some diseases and sensitivities to food can also require that a food be prepared the same way as an allergy free meal. One example of this would be someone with Celiac disease ordering a gluten free meal. Someone with this disease could be impacted if even a little bit of wheat or grain product is in their food. Prepare their food with the same care you would an allergen free meal.
3 Methods for Preventing Allergic Reactions
When preparing food with any of the eight major allergens, implementing these three methods can drastically decrease the incident of reactions.
- Always check the ingredients to be sure it is free of the allergen in question. Be willing to check labels of ingredients. If you are unsure of whether a particular item contains any amount of an allergen, be honest and tell the customer you do not know if that food item will risk their safety.
- When possible, use dedicated fryers, cutting boards, utensils, etc. to prevent the allergen from being introduced to other foods. Using common fryers, cutting boards, and serving utensils could cause cross-contact of the allergen with foods that would be normally be harmless. Use care when handling any of the common allergens, taking note of what has touched the surface.
- Immediately after handling foods containing an allergen, change gloves and wash your hands to prevent cross-contact with other foods.
Navigating life with allergies can be difficult and challenging. Keep your costumers safe and healthy by following safe food practices.
For more on food allergen safety, visit our food allergen safety training page.