Food allergy symposium will be a highlight at World Food Championships

By Allison Marlow
Posted 11/8/17

A night out at a restaurant is a treat for most people. For others, there is danger, even death lurking in every scrumptious bite.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates …

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Food allergy symposium will be a highlight at World Food Championships

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A night out at a restaurant is a treat for most people. For others, there is danger, even death lurking in every scrumptious bite.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that every three minutes someone is sent to the emergency room due to a food allergy reaction.

Individuals with allergies have to be vigilant to question ingredients and how dishes were prepared so that there is no cross-contamination. For many food allergy sufferers simply preparing their food in a dish used to hold their allergen earlier in the day can cause a reaction.

The symposium, “Addressing Allergies in Food Service”, will focus on life-threatening allergies and the food service industry. The program will include presentations from celebrity chef Elizabeth Falkner and food allergy experts Drs. Ruchi Gupta and Michael Pistiner.

The presenters will discuss what people should know if they suffer from food allergies, the importance of being mindful of what you eat in a restaurant and how the Allergy & Asthma Network is helping to provide families with resources on food allergies.

Tonya Winders, program presenter, answered some questions about food allergies for us as they gear up for this weekend’s presentation.

Q: Are restaurants trying to be more mindful of food allergies and prepare foods with different cooking utensils or is that an impossible task?

A: “Eating out is often a challenge for the millions of people with food allergies. The good news is many restaurants have responded by finding ways to accommodate food-allergic guests.

It’s not an impossible task for restaurants to prepare and serve allergy-safe meals. It starts with education. Many restaurants require kitchen and wait staff to undergo food allergy training every year.

Cross-contact occurs when a small amount of a food allergen gets into another food accidentally. Chefs and cooks learn the importance of cleaning countertops and other surfaces in the kitchen and using different cooking utensils, pots and pans, cutting boards, and even deep fryers when preparing an allergy-safe meal.

Wait staff learn the importance of good communication with both the patron and the chef so there’s no misunderstanding in relaying an allergy-safe order. Some take the precaution of serving allergen-free plates first to avoid contact with other food served.

Many restaurants, including some popular chains, have taken the step of listing allergens on their menus, including the online version. Some may even have a separate allergen-free menu.”

Q: Do accidents happen?

A: “Accidents do happen, and it’s important for restaurant guests and staff to know emergency procedures for a severe allergic reaction, also called anaphylaxis. The only medication that can reverse the severe or life-threatening symptoms of anaphylaxis is an epinephrine auto-injector.

No matter how much you trust the restaurant or the chef, you’re never going to know for sure what is going on in the kitchen, so be prepared and protect yourself. Keep epinephrine auto-injectors with you at all times.”

Q: What are the best tips for ordering when you have a food allergy? For example, can you request that your food be cooked using separate utensils to avoid cross contamination?

A: “The important thing is for guests to communicate clearly with the host, wait staff and, if possible, the chef. Communicate your allergens and emphasize that if even a tiny amount of allergen is included in the meal, it could cause a severe allergic reaction.

Some other tips for food-allergic patrons:

• Call the restaurant before deciding to go there and ask if they accommodate food allergies. The best time to call is usually between 2 - 4 p.m., before the dinner rush. Be ready with questions.

• Ask how the food is prepared. Request your food be cooked using separate cooking utensils or utensils that have been thoroughly cleaned first. Request the kitchen staff use separate pots, pans, grill or deep fryer during food preparation.

• If you’re allergic to peanut or tree nuts, it may be best to avoid Asian cuisines, as many Asian meals use those products; if you’re allergic to milk, you may want to avoid Italian due to pasta and breads made with dairy.

• Choose menu items that are simple. Some dishes with a long list of ingredients may be more likely to contain allergens.

• Avoid salad bars and buffets due to a high risk of cross-contact. Utensils at buffets are often used in more than one dish or food is dropped on the countertop.”

Q: Some people with food allergies may feel they are a bother when they ask a lot of questions. Is it perfectly acceptable in the restaurant industry to arrive with a list of questions about food preparation and ingredients?

A: “Absolutely. Patrons should be proactive in managing their food allergy. Review the restaurant menu online before arrival and create a list of questions about a meal’s ingredients. Find out if food substitutions for ingredients are available – whether rice milk can be used instead of regular milk, for example.

If you get the sense the restaurant feels it’s a bother that you’re asking a lot of food allergy questions, than you may not want to eat there. Your health and safety, or your child’s health and safety, are paramount.”

Q: Should adults tell other people about their children’s allergies?

A: “Yes. The more people are aware of a child’s food allergies, the quicker the response should be in identifying and treating a food-allergic reaction. It may be a good idea to tell adults what some of your child’s food allergy symptoms are, so they know to keep an eye out for a severe reaction and to treat immediately with an epinephrine auto-injector.

Studies show that any delay in treating a severe allergic reaction increases the risk of hospitalization or death. It’s recommended that patients carry two epinephrine auto-injectors at all times; 30 percent of people who experience anaphylaxis need more than one dose of epinephrine to relieve symptoms.”

Q: I think most people associate children with food allergies but adults suffer from allergies too. What should adults be mindful of when they are out eating?

A: “Adults are more likely to try different types of foods such as ethnic cuisines. Again, communication is essential – ask for ingredients to make sure the meal does not contain your allergen.

The more you talk, the more you’ll get a sense if the restaurant is knowledgeable about food allergies. For example, if the waiter confuses food allergies with gluten-free, that may be a sign you may not want to eat there.

Be cautious of desserts, as many contain nut, dairy or egg allergens.

And if you’re on a date and your partner has consumed one of your food allergens, hold off on any smooching for a few hours. Allergic reactions from kissing are rare but they can occur due to traces of the food allergen in the saliva.”