Nut Allergies: Information for Foodservice Operators
Food allergies are a serious food safety concern.1 As many as 15 million people in the U.S. have food allergies, including approximately 6 million children. A study, published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, revealed that among the 5.9 million children with food allergies, 39 percent have a history of severe reactions and 30 percent have multiple food allergies.2 Though most individuals develop food allergies in early childhood, food allergies can develop at any age.
Food allergy occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks a food protein. Ingestion of the offending food may trigger the sudden release of chemicals, including histamine, resulting in symptoms of an allergic reaction.3 The symptoms may be mild (rashes, hives, itching, swelling, etc.) or severe (trouble breathing, wheezing, loss of consciousness, etc.). A food allergy can be potentially fatal. Reactions are unpredictable. When they occur, they can be the same, less severe than, or more severe than previous reactions. Additionally, an individual may not always experience the same symptoms of an allergic reaction (for example, an individual may have hives with one reaction, and vomiting with a subsequent reaction). The nature of a reaction depends on a person's level of allergy and the dose of the allergen that was ingested.4
The Eight Major Food Allergens
- Fish (e.g. bass, flounder, cod)
- Seafood (e.g. crab, lobster, shrimp)
- Tree nuts (e.g. almonds, walnuts, pecans)
Allergen Labeling Law
On January 1, 2006 the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA)5 of 2004 took effect. The law requires that food manufacturers identify the presence of the eight major food allergens on the food labels.
As a foodservice professional, you need to know that the FALCPA labeling law does not directly apply to foodservice operations. As an amendment to the Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Act, the FALCPA targets packaged foods regulated by the FDA. However, there are two points worth noting:
If you pre-package foods and offer them for sale (e.g. take-home entrees or salads), you are subject to labeling requirements. If a customer asks for a take-home box or doggie bag, though, you are not.
As a restaurant owner or manager, you are the key resource for clients who consume your meals. Without access to package labels, clients depend on you, your staff and your menus to answer questions about food ingredients.
For more information visit: Food Allergens Labeling Guidance, Compliance & Regulatory Information
About Other Allergens
Persons may still be allergic to — and have serious reactions to — foods other other than the eight eight foods identified by the Allergen Labeling Law. Always be sure to read the food label’s ingredient list carefully to avoid any food allergens in question.
A key term in the food allergy arena today is cross-contact, or contamination of one food with an allergy-causing ingredient from another food. Cross contact in the food allergy world is the quite similar to cross contamination in the food sanitation world. It may occur during manufacturing or in food handling. Foodservice professionals need to be alert to this hazard in the foodservice environment. For example, chopping walnuts on a cutting board that is also used for chopping pears for a salad is a cross-contact concern for customers with a walnut allergy who order the pear, gorgonzola and walnut salad without walnuts.
Foodservice professionals need to be alert to this hazard in the foodservice environment. For example, chopping walnuts on a cutting board that is also used for chopping pears for a salad is a cross-contact concern for customers with a walnut allergy who order the pear, gorgonzola and walnut salad without walnuts.
Sources of Cross-Contact
- Cooking oils, splatter, and steam from cooking foods.
- Any food equipment used for the processing of allergy-free foods must be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized prior to use.
- All utensils (i.e.,spoons, knives, spatulas, tongs), cutting boards, bowls, pots, food pans, sheet pans, preparation surfaces.
- Allergen-containing foods touching or coming into contact with allergy-free foods (i.e. a nut-containing muffin touching a nut-free muffin).
- Fryers and grills.
- Wash hands and change gloves after handling potential food allergens.
The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network offers a range of food allergy information for food service professionals. For more information please go to: http://www.foodallergy.org/page/tips.
- Gupta RS, Springston EE, Warrier MR, Smith B, Kumar R, Pongracic J, Holl JL. The prevalence, severity, and distribution of childhood food allergy in the United States. Pediatrics. 2011; peds.2011-0204; published ahead of print June 20, 2011, doi:10.1542/peds.2011-0204.