Food Allergies in the Restaurant Industry: Be Aware!

A food allergy is an immune reaction that occurs when your body responds defensively to a component of a certain food that isn't actually harmful to the body. The first time the food is consumed, the affected individual's body creates antibodies for the food. When the individual consumes the food again, the antibodies produce large quantities of histamine in an attempt to force the offending food component from the body. Histamine affects the respiratory system, cardiovascular system, skin, and gastrointestinal tract. Food allergies cause debilitating symptoms and can be a challenging problem for the affected individual.


Intro to Food Allergies in the Restaurant

Food allergies are particularly dangerous in restaurants because the ingredients of a meal aren't typically displayed on the menu. Even traces of an allergen can cause an affected individual to have an allergic reaction, so people with food allergies must usually ask the server or cook if certain ingredients are included in the meals they order. In some cases, a product that doesn't include a food allergen may still elicit an allergic response if it is cooked near a product that does include the allergen. For this reason, restaurants must either take precautions to ensure that different foods don't come into contact with one another, or they must warn customers that all foods have the potential to contain certain allergens.


What Are Food Allergies?

A food allergy is an abnormal reaction to a certain food. When an individual eats the food, he/she experiences symptoms such as difficulty breathing, swelling, or itching. Food allergies may begin in childhood, or they may develop later in life without warning, and some food allergies may even be fatal. The most common allergy-causing foods are eggs, milk, seafood, tree nuts, and peanuts.


I've Never Had Food Allergies Before

Food allergies don't always begin in childhood. The reason for this is not clear, but a food allergy can develop at any time, regardless of how many times you have eaten the food. Food allergies may also disappear after childhood and reappear later in life. Some food allergies are thought to be hereditary.


What to Do after You Discover a Food Allergy

If you discover that you have a food allergy, you must avoid the offending food at all costs. When you visit restaurants, make sure that you ask the server about the ingredients of your meal. You may also seek out restaurants that are "allergy-friendly," which means that they take extra precautions to ensure that certain allergens don't come into contact with your food. Finally, if your allergy is serious, you should carry an injectable medicine to treat anaphylaxis, which is a potentially fatal allergic reaction. 


Fact or Myth...What's True

Many people mistakenly believe that food allergies are rare, but they are actually rather common. As many as 15 million people are currently living with food allergies in the United States. Many people also believe that food allergies aren't that dangerous or that one little bite of a food containing an allergen won't hurt the affected person. However, a food allergy can be fatal even when the allergen only appears in tract amounts. Finally, many people believe that allergic reactions increase in severity each time the individual consumes the offending food, but this isn't always true. Allergies are unpredictable. A subsequent allergic reaction may be worse, less severe, or the same as a previous reaction. 


More Information

Most allergic reactions occur immediately after consuming the allergen, but they may occur up to two hours later. Doctors may test for food allergies using skin pricks. However, a positive skin prick test doesn't guarantee that the individual will have an allergic reaction after consuming the food. Many individuals have food allergies that aren't severe and don't cause anaphylaxis or respiratory distress, but you can't predict what will happen if the person continues to consume the food.