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Although typical “Unwanted Patron” columns focus on what should not be in your food, this one takes a different approach with the focus on major food allergens that are part of many foods we eat daily. While most of us suffer no consequences with theirconsumption, to a sensitive person, these can be deadly. The restaurant industry needs to be alert to this concern and take appropriate steps to manage the risk.

Eight food ingredients are estimated to cause 90% of allergic reactions in the U.S., and awareness has become a top priority. Currently, Federal law requires packaged food items (generally grocery store items) be labeled to disclose these ingredients using “plain English”, as “milk, eggs, fish (i.e. bass, flounder, cod), crustacean shellfish (i.e., shrimp, crab, lobster), wheat, peanuts, tree nuts (i.e., almonds, pecans, walnuts), and soybeans”.

While these “Big Eight” are the primary allergens designated in the U.S., there are hundreds of other allergens affecting some people. When people with allergies dine out, they may request information to assist them in safe choices. At this time, specific labeling highlighting allergens is not required on restaurant menus though some chains have chosen to do so. Since some allergic individuals can react to a trace amount of an allergen, restaurant managers or corporate staff must make a conscious choice of what level of support they are comfortable offering.

The best way for people with food allergies to prevent a reaction is to avoid the foods that trigger them. So when dining out (until menu labeling becomes mandatory), they rely on the restaurant staff to provide them with information about the ingredients in their foods. Restaurants are not required to offer allergen-free items but for public health, the 2009 Food Code recommends the following:

  • The restaurant manager must be aware of the eight major food allergens listed in this article. 2-102.11(C)(9)
  • Managers should be able to describe the symptoms an allergic reaction can trigger. 2-102.11(C)(9)
  •  Employees should receive training about allergy awareness as it relates to their duties. 2-103

In Canada the CFIA also urges restaurants to develop strategies, such as an allergen prevention plan, to manage the risks associated with those foods known to cause severe adverse reactions.


Common symptoms are tingling sensation in the mouth, and swelling of the tongue and throat. This can progress to difficulty breathing, asthma attack, hives or eczema, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness, and possibly death. If a guest complains about any symptoms, call “911”.

If implementing an allergen-awareness program, the following recommendations can help guide guests with allergies:
  • During hours of operation, a restaurant should have at least one person on duty, ideally a manager or chef, who can handle questions and special requests from guests with food allergies.
  • When instructed by a guest regarding their food allergy, the restaurant should have a plan in place to handle that request.
  • To be able to make allergen declarations, recipes and their ingredients must be assessed for exact contents. Ingredient information must be obtained from suppliers of ready-to-eat products or ingredients for recipes.
  • The chef or manager must be able to provide an accurate listing of all current ingredients in any given menu item or recipe.
  • Chefs and cooks should be trained to avoid cross-contact when working with menu items for allergic guests.
  • When in doubt about any exact ingredients, don’t guess.. Instead, guide the guest to a safe choice.

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2" Round Allergen Awareness DuraLabel
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