Survey of Restaurant Workers Reveal Gaps in Food Allergy Practices

A team of federal, state and local environmental health specialists has found that fewer than half of restaurant managers – about 45 percent – have received food allergy training from their current employer. Food allergy training is less prevalent for other employees, with only 41 percent of food-workers and 33 percent of servers reporting that they had been trained in the restaurant where they work. Among restaurant workers who receive food allergy training, about one-third report that they were not taught the symptoms of an allergic reaction, and roughly one-quarter (servers) to one-third (managers) were not told what to do if a serious allergic reaction occurs.

The study was conducted by the Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net), a collaborative project of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and selected state and local health departments. Results were published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The survey also found that most restaurants do not follow practices that minimize the risk of cross-contact or accidental ingestion of food allergens:

  • More than half of restaurants have ingredient lists or recipes available for most or all menu items, but one in four restaurants surveyed does not list ingredients.
  • Fewer than one in five restaurants uses a special set of utensils or equipment to prepare allergen-free foods.
  • One in 13 restaurants has a special allergen-free food prep area in the kitchen.
  • One in 10 restaurants with a fryer has a designated fryer for allergen-free food, and 1 in 14 restaurants with a pick-up area has a special pick-up area for customers with food allergies.

Restaurants invited to participate in the study were randomly selected within convenient travel distances of six EHS-Net sites in California, Minnesota, New York State, New York City, Rhode Island and Tennessee. Less than one-third of restaurants that met the study criteria agreed to participate. Each of the 278 participating restaurants had an English-speaking manager who chose one food worker and one server to be interviewed. Employee selection and language requirements may have influenced survey results to reflect a higher level of allergy awareness than is typical of restaurants overall.

The full text of the study is available here. For more information, check out a 2016 FARE Blog entry that features additional EHS-Net data from this survey of 278 restaurants. To view FARE’s resources for restaurants, visit foodallergy.org/restaurants.

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