Meals I've Eaten, Issues I've Seen & Operations Advice


Allergen Alert- What You & Your Staff Need to Know

WIAfter many years of debate, the Wisconsin legislature and food safety regulatory bodies have come to an agreement and will be adopting the FDA 2009 Food Code in July.  The new code takes effect in September.

One of the bigger updates require the “Person in Charge” at a restaurant (and their staff) to have a greater knowledge and training on allergens and the effects they have.  In order to help my clients address this and do some training, I’ve created the following informational fact sheet.


Food allergy is an abnormal response to a food triggered by the body’s immune system. A food allergy occurs when the immune system responds to a harmless food as if it were a threat.

Each year, approximately 12 million Americans have allergic reactions to food, 3 million of them are children.  Food allergies occur most often in infants and children, it they can appear at any age and be caused by foods that have been eaten for years without a problem

There is no cure for food allergies. Strict avoidance of the food(s) that causes these symptoms should be observed by the allergic person.  Knowledge of these allergens is required by the FDA for food service professionals serving and producing food.

90% of all food allergic reactions are caused by the following “Major” food allergens:

Major Food Allergens

  1. Peanuts
  2. Crustacean shellfish (e.g. crab, lobster, shrimp)
  3. Fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod)
  4. Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans)
  5. Eggs
  6. Milk
  7. Wheat
  8. Soybeans

 What If Symptoms Occur?

Although most food allergies cause relatively mild and minor symptoms, some food allergies can cause severe reactions and even be life-threatening. Symptoms of food allergies typically appear within a few minutes to two hours after a person has eaten. Many parts of the body may be affected and the frequency and severity of symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening.

Allergic reactions can include:

  • Hives, redness, swelling of skin
  • Flushed skin or rash
  • Tingling or itchy sensation in the mouth
  • Face, tongue, or lip swelling
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Sneezing, stuffy nose, runny nose
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Dizziness and/or lightheadedness
  • Swelling of the throat and vocal cords
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Loss of consciousness, weak pulse

Peanuts cause the most severe allergic reactions, then shellfish, fish, tree nuts and eggs.

What Is Anaphylaxis?

Mild food allergy symptoms are not always a measure of mild severity. In fact, if not treated promptly, these symptoms can become more serious in a very short amount of time, and could lead to anaphylaxis- a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction. Food allergy is the leading cause of anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis can lead to:

  • Constricted airways in the lungs
  • Severe lowering of blood pressure and shock (anaphylactic shock)
  • Suffocation by swelling of the throat

 Each year in the U.S., it is estimated that anaphylaxis to food results in:

  • 30,000 emergency room visits
  • 2,000 hospitalizations
  • 150 deaths

 Persons with a known food allergy who begin experiencing symptoms while, or after, eating a food should take action immediately by going to a nearby a doctor or emergency room for appropriate testing and evaluation and possibly initiating treatment with a prescribed doze of an epinephrine autoinjector (Epi pen). Prompt administration of epinephrine during early symptoms of anaphylaxis may help prevent these serious consequences.


What Is The Responsibility Of The Food Service Provider?

The FDA outlines the below requirements for managers and employees involved in food service.

It is recommended that a binder with recipes and ingredients be kept in a place accessible to staff for easy reference and customer assistance if questions about allergens arise.

As part of training, all staff may want to watch this short video on Food Allergies- Reducing the Risks.

 Responsibility of the Food Service Managers & Person In Charge

  • Be aware of the serious nature of food allergies, including anaphylaxis and death
  • Know the 8 Major Food Allergens
  • Ability to identify all foods served within the establishment that contain the eight major allergens
  • Understand food allergen identities and labeling
  • Avoid cross contamination during food preparation and service
  • Perform proper food safety/allergen training and awareness  to food service employees “as it relates to their assigned duties”

Responsibility of the Food Service Employees

  • To have proper knowledge of food safety and allergy awareness as to protect the consumer and assist them in identifying and avoiding food that pose a risk to them.
  • To be able to identify, in the absence of the Person in Charge, all major allergens within foods served.

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