This is a subject that is very serious to anyone who works in the food and beverage industry. Food allergies affect anywhere from six to seven million Americans. To anyone who does not have a food allergy, this might not seem like a big deal. After all people deal with allergies all the time. The truth of the matter is that food allergies have a wide range of severity, from quite mild and irritating to life threatening in mere minutes.

A food allergy is the body’s negative reaction to a particular food protein and is different than a food intolerance or pharmacological or toxin caused reaction. The protein that is the cause of the reaction is mistaken by the person’s immune system as harmful and are thus tagged as an invader causing an immune response. Depending on the severity of the reaction, the body’s response might include itching, hives, swelling of the hands, face, eyes or feet, gastrointestinal distress (including stomach cramps, vomiting, or diarrhea), tightening of the throat, shortness of breath or even loss of consciousness. The most extreme cases food allergies can cause a person to go into anaphylactic shock and even die.

The most common causes of food allergies are milk, dairy products, eggs, egg products, fish, wheat, soy, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts. Although these are the most common types of foods causing reaction there is always the possibility that a person might have a sensitivity to a protein found in other foods. It is also sometimes not as obvious when an allergen is present. Many pre made or pre prepared items contain a variety of ingredients that may not be commonly known or associated with food allergies. Anyone who works with food should be trained to know about food allergies so that they should be able to answer any questions regarding the food being served. There should at least be one person to whom these questions can be referred to.

The best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to simply avoid foods that cause it. This requires the efforts of both the patron with the allergy and the establishment’s staff. The patron’s responsibility lies in informing the staff of the allergy and the severity of it. The staff’s responsibility then lies in knowing what foods, if any, contain the allergen, how they were prepared and in some cases what the chances are that other foods may have been contaminated with the allergen due to proximity in the kitchen. An example of this would be a person with a severe shellfish allergy wanting to know how some of the other seafood is prepared at a seafood restaurant.

In the case that someone does eat food they are allergic to there are a variety of treatment options. Antihistamines well help with mild cases of allergic reactions. For severe cases the use of epinephrine is called upon. Usually the person with the severe reaction will know of the allergy beforehand and carry an epinephrine auto-injector, or epi-pen. When an epi-pen is used it is important to get the person immediate medical attention.

Anyone who says they have a food allergy is taken serious. Food establishments cannot afford not to. The risk of someone having a potentially life threatening reaction is far outweighed by the possibility of someone who is lying for whatever reason. It takes the effort of both the patron and the staff to avoid any instance of an allergic reaction. For anyone who has never had to deal with food allergies hopefully this sheds a little light on what someone who does has to do.

Manuel De la Mora

November 20, 2014

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