Study Finds Most Restaurants Unprepared to Deal With Food Allergies

Though most of us assume that restaurants and other catering services can accommodate our food needs or restrictions, a new British study suggests restaurants workers are generally not trained to deal with food allergies, Time reported.

Results from the study indicate that about 90 percent of professional food-service workers, from restaurant owners to caterers to wait staff, are trained in general food services, but only one third have undergone any specific food-allergy training.

“A disproportionate number of food-provoked fatal anaphylactic reactions in the United Kingdom between 1999 and 2006 occurred after ingesting catered food,” the researchers from the public health division of Brighton and Sussex Medical School said.  “Food handlers’ poor knowledge may contribute to this elevated risk.  Currently, little training on food allergy is included in the generic food-hygiene training that is compulsory for all food handlers.”

Of those who had received some eduction about allergies, only three of the respondents had taken a specific food allergy course.  The rest had learned about allergies as a general food-hygiene or first aid course, or as a part of employee training.

Not surprisingly, many food handlers did not have a good understanding of how allergies work.  One out of three kitchens did not separate allergy-causing foods from other foods.  Only half of allergy-trained workers could identify three common allergens such as eggs, peanuts or shellfish.

Nearly 25 percent thought that an allergic reaction could be treated by drinking a glass of water to “dilute the allergen”, 23 percent thought that people with allergies would be fine if they only consumed a small amount of the allergen, and 21 percent thought people who had food allergies could simply pick the foods they were allergic to off their plates and suffer no reaction.

Conversely, 80 percent of respondents said they were confident they could provide a safe meal for customers with food allergy.

“Alarmingly there was no association between the respondents’ knowledge and their comfort level in providing a safe meal to food-allergic customers,” the researchers said.  “Staff with high comfort and low knowledge are potentially dangerous, as they may convey an exaggerated sense of competence to their customers, giving them false reassurance.”

Three percent of American adults have at least one food allergy, compared to 6 percent of children under age 3.  Three million American children are affected.  The researchers said their study underscored how important it was for parents to be cautious when dining out with children who have food allergies.

The study was published in Clinical & Experimental Allergy.

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