Allergens: An Integral Part of Food Safety

A food allergy is an immune system response to proteins in certain foods that some people are sensitive to. Sensitivity varies with individuals and may vary over time. When exposure to the allergen occurs, the body’s immune system attacks and produces one or more adverse health effects. Some effects, such as anaphylaxis, can be fatal. As the prevalence of food allergies increases, the importance of accommodating guests with food-related allergies and intolerances rises to ensure the safe service of food.

  • Each year, food allergies impact approximately 15 million in the United States and represent approximately 30,000 emergency room visits and 150-200 deaths.(1)
  • Undeclared allergens in foods have represented the largest number of recalls in the last few years. (2)
  • The majority of fatal food allergy reactions occur as the result of consuming food outside the home. (3)
  • In a recent survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half of restaurant managers and employees did not receive allergen training. (1)
  • Over 170 foods are known to cause allergic reactions in the United States, and the ‘big eight’ – milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, shellfish, fish, and soy cause over 90% of them. (3)

 

New Illinois Allergens Training Law

Beginning January, 1, 2018, all certified food protection managers (CFPMs) working in a restaurant must complete additional allergen training using an approved allergen awareness training program.

Certificate of course completion must be kept at the establishment, made available to the health inspector upon request and is an item on the inspection report.

  • Training is required within 30 days of hire.
  • Enforcement begins July 1, 2018.
  • Recertification required every three years.
  • Must utilize an allergen awareness training program that is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)

 

This requirement applies to any restaurant business (defined as Category 1, High Risk) that is primarily engaged in the sale of ready-to-eat food for immediate consumption, but does not include grocery stores, convenience stores, daycares, schools, assisted living or long term care facilities. Training is also not currently required for food handlers (those without CFPM certifications), and certified food protection managers for risk category 2 or 3 establishments. (see Illinois Food Code, for risk category definitions).

Five Important Things You Should Know

  1. Food allergies can be fatal

According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), food-related allergic reaction results in an emergency room visit every three minutes. Failure to recognize the severity of an anaphylactic reaction and quickly treating it with epinephrine is a major risk factor for fatalities from food allergies. Symptoms may also recur several hours after the initial reaction. Severe reactions have occurred in approximately 40% of children with food allergies. Teenagers and young adults with food allergies are at highest risk for food allergy-related reaction fatalities. Sesame, though not currently among the ‘big eight’ allergens has become an increasing concern and has attributed to fatal anaphylactic reactions. (3)

  1. Food allergies and food intolerances are not the same

Food allergies are an immune system response to proteins in foods that some people are sensitive to, while a food intolerance stems from the body’s inability to digest or absorb certain substances in food. Some intolerances, such as celiac disease, can result in severe reactions. (4) Both allergies and intolerances must be taken seriously.

  1. Food allergies are becoming more common

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies increased 18% between 1997 and 2007 and continue to rise. Prevalence among children has increased 50%. (3,4)

  1. Avoiding foods containing allergens isn’t enough

Accidental exposure, occurring from cross contact in food-manufacturing, restaurant kitchens, and other commercial foodservice operations can result in serious reactions. (4) Thus, eating away from home can pose a significant risk to people with food allergies if the kitchen and wait staff are not properly trained. According to the CDC, training restaurant employees on critical details regarding food allergens and how to avoid cross-contact, as well as dedicating equipment and processes to prepare and serve allergen-free foods, is key to reducing risk of allergic reactions. (1) 

  1. It is financially beneficial to be allergen friendly.

With approximately 5% of the population affecting by food allergies and intolerances, these diners can be the deciding factor for another 10-15% dining out. Families that have avoided eating out due to risk of reactions might seek out establishments that actively control risks. Operations that accommodate allergies and intolerances can make guests feel safer in their dining experiences and drive more customer loyalty, resulting in sales, profits and competitive advantage. Consider that after word spread of Disney’s commitment to being allergen friendly, their service of allergen-friendly meals has grown by more than tenfold in less than a decade. (5,6)

 

How to Get Training

ANSI-approved online and classroom training are available through Foodservice Safe, LLC., to meet the certification requirement and any additional training that would improve your operations’ ability to prepare and serve food more safely to guests with food allergies and intolerances. Certification is valid for three years.

All individuals seeking food service sanitation manager certification or food service sanitation manager recertification must undergo training in Illinois.

This ANSI-approved online course is available on-demand and self-paced. Cost is just $19.95 per employee.

  • Two hour time commitment, which can be completed in intervals
  • Spanish test option available
  • Study resources/material included

 

For private in-house classes, contact Foodservice Safe, LLC, at 866.447.2338 or info@foodservicesafe.com. Visit www.foodservicesafe.com to register and/or review certification classes.

Colleen Nyland is a food safety instructor for Foodservice Safe, LLC. She is certified with the Illinois Department of Public Health and through ServSafe. She has been an Adjunct Instructor with Elgin Community College’s Culinary and Hospitality Program since 2009 and has also taught for Northern Illinois University’s Hospitality Administration program since 2005.

Footnotes:

  1. Radke TJ, Brown LG, Faw B, et al. Restaurant Food Allergy Practices — Six Selected Sites, United States, 2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2017;66:404–407. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6615a2.
  2. Maberry, Tiffany. “A Look Back at 2016 Food Recalls.” Food Safety Magazine, 7 Feb. 2017, www.foodsafetymagazine.com/enewsletter/a-look-back-at-2016-food-recalls/.
  3. “Facts and Statistics.” Food Allergy Research & Education, www.foodallergy.org/life-food-allergies/food-allergy-101/facts-and-statistics.
  4. Dennett, Carrie. “5 Important Things to Know about Food Allergies.” The Seattle Times, The Seattle Times Company, 10 May 2016, seattletimes.com/life/wellness/5-important-things-to-know-about-food-allergies/.
  5. Antico | Aug 28, 2015, Paul. “The financial benefits of being allergy-Friendly.” Food Management, Food Management Magazine, 4 Sept. 2015, food-management.com/blog/financial-benefits-being-allergy-friendly.
  6. “How Much Are Food-Allergic Diners Worth?” Business Wire, Berkshire Hathaway, 4 Jan. 2011, www.businesswire.com/news/home/20110104006058/en/Food-Allergic-Diners-Worth