Diners beware: restaurants pose food allergy risks

By Ann Griswold • Published: July 18th, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Every year, more than one hundred Americans die at the dinner table. The culprit? Not fatty foods, as you might expect, but everyday ingredients like milk, eggs, fish, soy, wheat and nuts. These foods can trigger allergic attacks that leave victims gasping for breath, and in severe cases, can end in anaphylactic [an-ah-fil-ak-tik] shock.

More than a fourth of these deadly attacks occur in restaurants. A recent study looked at managers, servers and chefs working at more than a hundred different establishments, ranging from fast food joints to fine dining restaurants.

Fewer than half the personnel interviewed said they’d undergone food-allergy training, though most express confidence in their ability to provide a safe meal.

But the study points out several misconceptions held by food prep personnel. See how your knowledge compares by answering the following questions:

Is it safe to consume traces of an allergen-containing food? Are most allergens destroyed in the oven or fryer? And the last question: Is it safe to remove a problem ingredient from a diner’s plate and re-serve it?

If you answered NO to all three, congratulations!

Restaurant-goers can prevent dining disasters by keeping emergency medications on hand and avoiding risky situations, like buffet tables. Personalized “chef cards” are also convenient ways for patrons to remind restaurant staff of special needs. The cards list problem ingredients and can be handed to servers when ordering. To create and print personalized chef cards of your own, visit “foodallergy-dot-org” and search for the keywords “chef card.”