A survey of restaurant owners, managers and chefs published earlier this month in the Journal of Foodservice Business Research showed that even though 80 percent of participants indicated they had received training about food allergies, there were wide gaps in knowledge about food allergies.
Researchers at Auburn University surveyed 110 restaurant managerial staff in the U.S. from both independent and chain restaurants to investigate the levels of awareness and preparedness related to serving customers with food allergies. Among their findings:
- Nearly 22 percent of participants indicated food allergy reactions had occurred at their restaurants in the past year.
- The top three strategies adopted by restaurants to accommodate food allergies were modifying recipes upon request, stating food allergens on the menus and posting food allergen information on the restaurant website.
- The mean food allergy knowledge scores was 19.7 (highest possible score was 28).
- More than 40 percent were not able to identify soy and fish among top allergens
- Half were not able to identify arachis oil as peanut oil
- About 40 percent believed that simply removing a food allergen from a plated meal could prevent an allergic reaction and that food allergies could be cured by modern medicine
- More than half thought a food allergy and a food intolerance are the same condition
“These findings imply that restaurateurs are evidently underestimating the severity of food allergies,” the authors wrote.
Encouragingly, nearly 70 percent of participants indicated they had provided food allergy training to their employees in the past year. Chefs scored higher in food allergy knowledge on the survey than managers and owners. Most participants agreed that food allergies have become more prevalent and that they had encountered a broader variety of food allergies.
Participants indicated that barriers to getting employees trained were lack of commitment, lack of interest in attending food allergy training, scheduling conflicts and employee turnover.
“Findings from this study showed that restaurants have attempted to respond to food allergies both at the front and back-of-the-house functions. These efforts should be continued as food allergy is a health concern that is on the rise,” the authors wrote.
FARE’s SafeFARE program has comprehensive resources for diners and restaurant staff. Visit safefare.org for more information on food allergen training for restaurants.