Monday, September 5, 2011

The Importance of Being Vigilant at Restaurants

by Kelley Lindberg

In May 2011, a report called “Restaurant Staff's Knowledge of Anaphylaxis and Dietary Care of People with Allergies” appeared in Clinical & Experimental Allergy, the journal of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The authors, S. Bailey, R. Albardiaz, A.J. Frew, and H. Smith, reported on the results of a telephone questionnaire administered to staff members at 90 table-service restaurants in Brighton, England.

What they found was pretty disconcerting. The good news is “eighty-one percent reported confidence (very or somewhat) in providing a safe meal to a food-allergic customer.”

The bad news is that at least some portion of that 81% got a lot of their food allergy information wrong on the questionnaire, which means there’s a good chance they’ll contaminate a food-allergic customer’s food anyway.

Here are some of the highlights (lowlights?) of the report from the journal’s website:
  • 90% reported food hygiene training.
  • 33% reported specific food allergy training.
  • 56% could name three or more food allergens.
  • 38% believed an individual experiencing a reaction should drink water to dilute the allergen. (Not true!)
  • 23% thought consuming a small amount of an allergen is safe. (Not true!)
  • 21% reported allergen removal from a finished meal would render it safe. (Not true!)
  • 16% thought cooking food prevents it from causing allergy. (Not true in most cases! Some milk-allergic people can tolerate milk when it’s baked in foods, for example, but it should always be assumed that cooking does not render an allergen safe!)
  • 12% were unaware allergy could cause death. (Eeek!)
  • 48% expressed interest in further training on food allergy. (Well, at least that’s good news!)
This study is a good reminder that we can’t assume restaurant staff really understands the serious nature of a food allergy until we’ve discussed it with them fully.

Some of the tried-and-true methods for ensuring your dining-out experience will run as smoothly as possible include:
  1. Checking the restaurant’s website for allergen information
  2. Checking a restaurant site, like, for other customers’ reviews.
  3. Calling ahead and speaking with the manager about your specific allergies and what the restaurant can do to accommodate you.
  4. Carrying an allergy card with you that explains what you can and can’t eat (and if you’re traveling, get an allergy translation card, too, from
  5. Informing the waiter of your allergies, even if you’ve already talked to the manager.
  6. Double-checking when the food arrives that the cook prepared it safely.
  7. Keeping your EpiPens and antihistamine with you at all times.
Many restaurants are really making an effort to accommodate food-allergic customers, so it’s worth the extra effort to find the ones that will be safe for you.

(You just might be a little extra careful if a trip to Brighton, England, is in your future!)

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