Eye-opening statistics from the National Restaurant Association food allergy webinar

Food Allergy Webinar for Restaurateurs

Two weeks ago, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) held a webinar entitled, “Food Allergies Are Nothing to Sneeze At.” (www.restaurant.org/events/webinars/pages/index.cfm?Page=20100317_food_allergies.cfm) This webinar was designed to bring restaurateurs up-to-date on food allergy issues that are affecting their industry.

While most of the information formed a pretty basic primer about food allergies (potentially disturbing in its own right that many restaurateurs would need to hear such basics), I was shocked at some of the statistics presented and thought they were worth sharing here.

1) 24% of restaurant personnel think ingesting a small amount of allergen is safe. Wow! That just goes to show that we in the food allergy and intolerance community have to be the educators and have to be firm in expressing our needs to restaurant staff. (It also makes a site like AllergyEats all the more valuable in gauging which restaurants “get it” or not.)

2) 35% of restaurant personnel think fryer heat destroys allergens. Obviously, we need to proactively ask what oil is in the fryer AND what other foods are cooked in that fryer to avoid dangerous cross-contamination

3) 54% of restaurant personnel think a buffet is safe if kept clean. While cleanliness is noble and welcome, buffets are simply cross-contamination havens, in my opinion. If you have a severe food allergy, I can’t imagine you’d ever want to mess with a buffet. I’d be curious to hear if others disagree (click on the Comments box below).

4) 25% of restaurant personnel think a meal is safe if allergens are taken off the plate. Please see a prior AllergyEats Blog post entitled “Let Pammy teach us not to take chances.” (www.allergyeats.com/blog/?p=109) In it, Pammy describes her very negative reaction after taking this very approach with peas on rice. The bottom line is that it is NOT safe. Cross-contamination is serious. If a plate is brought out with one of your food allergens present, you need to firmly, but politely ask for a new meal on a new plate. Let servers know about the potential consequences to you of not doing so to make sure they don’t say “Yeah, sure” and go ahead with unsafe food allergy practices anyway.

5) 70% of those with food allergies tell the restaurant staff all the time, 20% usually, and 6% sometimes. (I don’t know where that leaves the other 4%, but maybe the answer is “never.”) While it would be very concerning to me as a restaurateur that 30% of my food allergic patrons aren’t letting me know, I’m going to make the assumption that these 30% are confident about how to handle their food allergy issues and do not have serious reactions. That said, why risk even the discomfort? (Again, see the “Pammy” blog post referenced above.)

I hope these statistics don’t scare you into staying home! Dining out can be a safe experience, and a very enjoyable one, so long as you know who you need to rely on – YOU! You have to be the educator, the watchdog, and the first line of potential emergency personnel. The main AllergyEats site has a link to Dining Tips on the left sidebar (www.allergyeats.com/dining_tips.php) that I would strongly recommend reading if you’d like expert opinions on how to minimize the chance for an uncomfortable or dangerous dining experience. Many people with serious food allergies and intolerances go years and years without a negative reaction (possibly never having one), so again please don’t let this blog entry scare you away from enjoying a wonderful night out.

A lot of facts to digest here (no pun intended… okay, a little). Care to share your thoughts? As always, I welcome as many other views as possible. Please click on the Comments button below and share what you think with the rest of our community.

And once again, as always, please continue to use the main AllergyEats site (www.allergyeats.com) to find and rate allergy-friendly restaurants. Particularly with this weekend’s Easter holiday, please remember to help our entire food allergy and intolerance community (and thus yourself) by rating any dining-out experiences. Together, we can put pressure on many allergy-unfriendly restaurants to change their practices through a simple, time-tested method called the profit motive.



    I frequently don’t tell the restaurant. Or don’t give them my whole list. Especially in a place that I know practices good allergy precautions and when I’m not ordering anything where I am likely to get in trouble (no fear of soy or tree nuts from a steamed lobster, and I’m intolerant of dairy not allergic). This comes from too many places being over cautious (a manager has to bring out the food lots of extra checks to make sure it’s okay and an astronomical freakout if anything goes wrong that not only puts me in an uncomfortable position but also prevents me from being able to enjoy me meal with my company even if everything goes right.)

    I’m also very selective about where I will go and only visit retaurants where I do feel that level of safety. I think that for me, maybe because if my food allergies, the point is not the food or the restaurant itself but the being out with friends and family so i get annoyed when the restaurant infringes too much on that.


    That’s scary that these places have to be given the basics. As restaurants, they should be up to date on this.

    I have a friend in my knitting group who works at a local college cafeteria. They had to go over basic food allergy practices after coming back from a break. It was extensive, though.

    Tomorrow is Easter, and my aunt was making reservations. She suggested a buffet. My mother was talking to her, and I heard the conversation. I can’t go to buffets, because we don’t know what’s in the sauces and a lot of the times, the staff doesn’t seem to care. Most buffets in my area smother things with sauces and creams and I just avoid them. Also, my mother suggested Indian, but I’m not so sure I can eat that food anymore because of the tomatoes, wheat, and dairy on the foods. They don’t exactly have any plain foods other than the rice. So we’re going to a place that has brunch. They’ll have some choice that can have special requests.

    That statistic about taking the allergen off the plate is ridiculous. If it touches the other foods, it’s contaminated them.


    I use allergy cards that I make on business card stock….give it to the server and request to talk to the restaurant manager so he can talk to the chef.
    I have been boldly turned away from only 2 restautants in 2 years…and left many others when I did not feel safe.
    Town & Country Diner on Route 206 in Trenton /Bordentown area TOTALLY unfriendly…
    and The Three Village Inn totally unfriendly and non-apologetic.

    I have learned to ask if the seafood is cooked in the same OIL and FRYERS as other foods and 98% of the time the answer is YES….
    Learning to live with new food allergies an adult is difficult…but is doable.

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