Food Allergies

Food Allergies - Understanding & Accommodating Patrons


Food allergies affect up to 15 million people in
the United States, including nearly 7-8% of
children. A food allergy results when the body’s
immune system mistakenly targets a harmless
food protein (allergen) and attacks it. The attack
is called anaphylaxis and can threaten vital body functions,
including breathing and blood circulation. Anaphylaxis is
potentially fatal. Strict avoidance of the food(s) likely to cause a reaction is the only means of prevention.

Primary Food Allergens


These 8 food types account for 90% of all food-allergic reactions:


1. Peanuts

Peanut allergy is one of the most common, and appears to be on the rise with children. Even trace amounts can cause a reaction. Even though peanuts are legumes, those with peanut allergies do not have a greater chance of being allergic to other legumes such as beans, lentils, or soybeans.


2. Tree Nuts

Tree nut allergy is also one of the most common. Tree nuts include, but are not limited to, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts (filberts), macadamia nuts, pistachios, and walnuts.


3. Milk

Allergy to cow’s milk is the most common food allergy in infants and young children. Milk allergy should not be confused with lactose intolerance. The former is an overreaction of the body’s immune system to a specific milk protein. The latter is a digestive disorder caused by the body missing the enzyme lactase (necessary to break down milk sugar).


4. Eggs

Egg allergy is the second most common food allergy among children. Only the egg white contains the allergenic proteins, but since it is impossible to completely separate the white from the yolk, eggs must be entirely avoided.


5. Wheat

Wheat allergy is usually outgrown before reaching adulthood. Approximately 80% of people who are allergic to wheat (not those with gluten intolerance or celiac disease) tolerate other grains.


6. Soy

Generally, reactions to soy are typically mild and occur most often in only 0.4% of children.


7. Fin Fish

This allergy is usually lifelong, with about 40% of those who have it first experiencing it as adults. Salmon, tuna, and halibut are the most common kinds of fish to which people are allergic.


8. Shell Fish

This allergy is usually lifelong, with about 60% of those who have it first experiencing it as adults. There are two kinds of shellfish: crustaceans (shrimp, crab, lobster, etc.) and mollusks (clams, mussels, oysters, scallops, etc.). Some individuals are not necessarily allergic to both groups of shellfish.

Allergic Reaction - Anaphylaxis


Food allergy is the most common cause of anaphylaxis (insect stings and latex are examples of others). During anaphylaxis, symptoms can be severe and affect breathing and blood circulation.


Epinephrine (adrenaline) is a medication that can reverse the severe symptoms of anaphylaxis. It is given as a “shot” and is available as a self-injector, also known as an epinephrine autoinjector, which can be carried and used if needed. Epinephrine is a highly effective medication, but it must be administered promptly during anaphylaxis to be most effective. Delays can result in death in as little as 30 minutes. Even if epinephrine is administered promptly and symptoms seem to subside completely, the individual who was treated with epinephrine should always be taken to the emergency room for further evaluation and treatment.

Resources for Restaurants


FARE – Food Allergy Research & Education ( is an excellent information resource for foodservice operations. They have partnered with the National Restaurant Association and MenuTrinfo® to offer training programs.


ServSafe™ Allergens Online Course


This course from the National Restaurant Association helps restaurant personnel better understand the needs and safety precautions required when serving guests with food allergies.
The ServSafe™ Allergens Online Course is designed to educate all restaurant workers – from the hostess in the front of the house, to the manager and executive chef, to the line cook in the back of the house - about the potential severity of food allergies and the precautions that must be taken.


Learn more:

AllerTrain® Program


Created by MenuTrinfo®, a provider of nutritional analysis and allergen training, this program offers training in the classroom setting, as well as live webinars. The AllerTrain® program teaches chefs and foodservice employees safe handling and delivery procedures of meals to diners with food allergies. Available training includes AllerTrain U®, AllerTrain U® Condensed, and AllerTrain K12® programs, which are designed for university and school foodservice staff, respectively.


AllerTrain® programs are eligible for American Culinary Federation continuing education credits and include a three-year certification that informs customers that foodservice establishments have the ability to safely meet unique dietary needs.


Learn more: