A food allergy is an adverse reaction after eating, or even encountering, certain foods and ingredients. Given that approximately 1 in 20 people have a food allergy, it is important for food and beverage employees to understand how important it is to handle food for these customers. Improper food handling can inadvertently expose someone to a food they are allergic to, potentially causing a severe reaction.
The top 8 most common food allergies involve fish, shellfish, eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat and soy. About 90% of food allergies are caused by these 8 foods. These foods are common in restaurant kitchens, so it is easy to see the necessity of food handlers taking a course in food allergies.
Testing for food allergies, or any type of allergy, often involves a skin prick test. A skin prick test uses very small needles, each with a trace amount of a potential allergen on its tip, to make a tiny puncture into the skin. This is often done on the back in a grid, organized so that allergists can keep track of which prick is allocated to which allergen. If the area becomes inflamed, that means the individual had an adverse reaction to the allergen.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction caused by a food allergy include indigestion, vomiting, hives, swelling, difficulty breathing and even heart problems. Even less severe allergic reactions can cause painful stomach cramps. In the most severe cases, an allergic reaction can cause anaphylactic shock. This sends the body into shock impairing breathing and organ function, and can lead to death.
It is important to note that not every reaction is the same, even with the same person reacting to the same food. Someone who had a mild reaction last time may have a much more severe reaction if exposed again. Allergic reactions may take place minutes or hours after exposure, so those with food allergies often live with a high level of unpredictability.
The most effective treatment for food allergies is avoiding the food altogether. That may seem simple enough, but those with food allergies can easily be exposed to the food while eating in restaurants where proper food handling procedures are not being practiced. Restaurant employees not washing hands or changing gloves, or thoroughly cleaning surfaces and utensils between orders are common culprits in unintentionally causing an allergic reaction.
Most commonly, individuals experience the less severe symptoms, such as hives, stomach pain and headache. An individual with a gluten allergy could become very ill from their food being cut with the same knife used to cut a wheat product. Their symptoms can sometimes last days, while their body processes the small amounts of gluten. Those with nut and shellfish allergies often have the most severe reactions. Even the dust from a peanut ingested by someone with a very severe allergic can lead to an extreme reaction. Exposure to shellfish via unchanged gloves can cause anaphylaxis.
Avoiding the food which causes an allergic is the most common and effective method of treating food allergies because it is inexpensive, safe and relatively easy. A newer treatment involves desensitizing those with food allergies. The process involves taking very small amounts of proteins from the allergens, often in a powdered form, and gradually introducing it to the allergic individual. This must be done carefully, and in a setting supervised by a medical professional. This treatment is still very experimental and is not effective for everyone. Until treatments such as these are perfected, people must still avoid the foods they are allergic to.
Because almost all restaurants have fish, shellfish, eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat or soy on site, maybe even all of the above, proper handling must be practiced at all times. Food allergies require serious testing and treatment, and can cause discomfort at the very least. Those with food allergies can keep their homes free of certain foods, but it is important that they can also trust a restaurant kitchen to keep them safe.
Source: TABC Blog by Learn 2 Serve