Guests with Allergies – Are you keeping them safe?

Did you now that up to 10% of U.S. Adults have some type of food allergy? There are the “Big Eight” common allergens, and 90% of allergic reactions are caused by them, but there is a wide range of lesser known Allergens. Does your staff know how to handle a guest that identifies they have an allergy? Is there a system and plan in place for these issues?

A food allergy is an immune system reaction that usually occurs soon after eating a certain food. Just a small amount of that food can trigger signs and symptoms such as digestive problems and discomfort, hives or swollen airways. In some severe cases, a food allergy may cause severe symptoms or even a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis. Most people that do have serious allergy issues usually know about it, and ask their server on what to avoid. If an unlabeled allergen is eaten, some people may think it might be food poisoning. No matter what, you want to make sure allergen issues are avoided

You and your staff should be familiar with The Big Eight – Egg, Fish, Milk, Tree Nuts, Ground Nuts – aka Peanuts, Shellfish, Soybean, Wheat and Gluten. There are a whole host of others .Take a look


What steps should your restaurant take to protect your guests?

Educate your staff – back and front. ALL need to understand the seriousness of allergies. Servers should ask the guests if they have any allergies, then clearly inform the kitchen. The kitchen must respect and take all steps to prevent Cross-Contact with foods and equipment that may have the allergen. Steps include changing apron, handwash/glove change, cutting board change (including cleaning & sanitize of areas) Even a small trace of an allergen could trigger a serious reaction. You cannot be too careful!!

Communicate with your customers – If an item even has a trace of the allergen, let them know, and suggest another item. Your guest will appreciate it!

Have a list of ingredients – be honest!! Many restaurants have an identifier next to a menu item that has a common allergen. Some restaurants have a complete list that the servers can refer to. Several months ago, I gave a hint to wash mushrooms in water with cornstarch. A reader with a corn and cornstarch allergy asked about using cornstarch. There should be a final rinse of all cornstarch and dirt off the mushrooms, but there could be a trace left on the food. Be Honest and include all ingredients even used in processing the food

Set up a special orders plan – Once the customer identifies they have an allergy, the server should highlight it on the order, speak to the kitchen PIC, who then makes sure the proper steps are taken in the kitchen. Once the food is ready, I recommend that the FoH manager take the plate individually to the guest. This is another step in avoiding cross contact, and shows the guest your restaurants commitment to their safety.

You should develop a written plan for your restaurant that outlines how allergens are handled, and make it part of your training, with periodic refreshers. There should be at least 1 PIC that takes a course on Allergens. has a good online course.

Have an emergency plan – Even with good planning and precautions, a guest may have an allergic reaction. Your staff should be able to identify what the signs are, and understand that a customer may need urgent medical attention – Don’t hesitate to call 911

These are all general guidelines to use. Please contact a professional or professional organization for more detailed information or can help you set up a comprehensive Allergens plan.

To set up a Food Safety Audit or Register for an upcoming ServSafe class, please contact Peter Bellisario via email or phone (808)491-7766. As always, Hawaii Restaurant Association members are eligible for a discount on our already reasonable fees.


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