Allergens in recent years have risen to the forefront and become a topic that we, as food service providers, chefs, and all, have to take into account. Keeping food safe in environments like restaurants can be a challenge to say the least. Having common allergens around foods compounds the problem.
|Please note that I am not a doctor nor do I play one on TV, although first aid training is in there somewhere. Any information contained is to be taken at face value, but do your research. I am not responsible for any errors or omissions. The information contained is true as far as I know and understand it.|
Understanding what the common allergens are can help you keep them in their place. It is also helpful to know that a lot of products, while not containing an allergen directly, like nuts, might be made and processed in a plant that has nuts, therefore not ensured to be safe.
In food the ones we most often see are Milk, dairy products, eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts. Others exist and the list grows and grows. My personal allergy is limited to a pesticide used on fruit, which means any fruit I consume has to be organic or cooked.
SEVERITY OF REACTIONS
Of all the allergies that are out there, food allergies seem to be the most severe. The fact that food is consume its reactions can be quick and severe. The fact that our Esophagus (throat) is next to our Trachea (airway) means that reactions that cause swelling can restrict airflow to our lungs.
A reaction can include some, or all of the following symptoms;
- Itching in and around the throat, mouth, and scalp
- Tightening of the throat
- Wheezing or shortness of breath.
- Hives (these can be anywhere, my reactions show in my wrists and arms)
- Swelling and/or reddening of the face, eyes, hands or feet.
- Gastrointestinal symptoms including cramps, vomiting or diarrhea.
In your home, the best things is to keep a product out of the mix all together, but that isn’t always practical. The best solution is to follow the same guidelines for keeping food safe. Avoid cross contamination and keep the products separate. Never use the same utensil , too, bowls, cutting boards, etc… without cleaning them completely.
Clearly label products on buffets, or self service areas, especially if they contain common allergens like peanuts or shellfish.
Eating out can really prove to be a challenge for someone with acute (severe) reactions to allergens, and they must take special precautions. I have even seen people have their first reactions to products and it can be a frightening experience for all.
Be sure to tell your server immediately of any allergies. Be sure to ask if the restaurant can accommodate the particular allergen that may be in play. If you are allergic to Gluten, chances are a pasta/pizza joint is not the place for you. In my experience few restaurants can handle allergies well.
Always be sure to find out if an allergen is in a food. Never assume that an allergen, just because it isn’t listed in the menu description, isn’t in the food.
If you are unsure, ask for a manager/chef’s assistance. Plain and simple, a manager has much more training in the food and resources than a server, most of the time. They also have the power to make sure they follow through on the instructions, and can see that the kitchen does the same.
Keep a written list of allergens, and a few copies. I once had a person who was so protective of their child they didn’t want to call any special attentions to his allergies, yet they were extensive, and I was very concerned about my ability to keep his food safe. The compromise was to have the mother write down a list of allergens so I could make sure the food was safe.
Again, I am not a doctor and you should consult a doctor about what you need to do in your own situations. What you can do that is important, especially if breathing problems occur, is call for help, 911. Have someone make a list of all ingredients in whatever food(s) were being consumed to send along with the patient. Oxygen, if available, wouldn’t hurt the situation and can provide some relief.
Epi pens and the like should only be handled by a professional, or someone trained in their use, but can be carried by a person who is known to have severe reactions.
The end result is, get help, and it can be time critical. Make sure to explain to the 911 operator clearly what is happening and that it is a potential allergic reaction, this can have a big impact on the type of treatment and vehicle emergency services may send.
Keep your food and family safe!