Food Allergen Awareness

The number of people in the US with food allergies is increasing. Food intolerance is rarely life threatening but food allergies sometimes are. Food allergies are very complex and a serious medical condition affecting up to 15 million people in the United States, including 1 in 13 children. When you work in dining services and are responsible for preparing and serving food to patients and residents it is important to be able to identify common food allergens and the foods that contain these allergens to keep our patients and residents safe.

What is a Food intolerance?

Food intolerance is a food induced reaction that does not involve the immune system. They are generally uncomfortable, but rarely, fatal. You can outgrow food intolerance or develop it later in life. Lactose and Gluten (Celiac’s Disease) are two of the most common food intolerances.

What is a Food Allergy?

Food allergies occur when the body’s immune system reacts to certain proteins in food. Food allergic reactions vary in severity from mild symptoms involving hives and lip swelling to severe, life-threatening symptoms, often called anaphylaxis, that may involve fatal respiratory problems and shock. While promising prevention and therapeutic strategies are being developed, food allergies currently cannot be cured and can only be treated with medication when exposed.

The food service staff should be properly trained in identifying the top 9 Food Allergens: Milk, Eggs, Fish, Shellfish, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Wheat, Soybeans, and Sesame. Sesame was added to the list in 2021 and into the food code in 2022. As of January 1, 2023, all top 9 Allergens must be identified on any food manufactured. Staff should also be aware of symptoms of an allergic reaction and what actions to take if exposure has occurred.

Here some of the common symptoms:

• Itching in and around the mouth, face, or scalp
• Tightening in the throat
• Wheezing or shortness of breath
• Hives
• Swelling of the face, eyes, hands, or feet
• Gastrointestinal symptoms
• Loss of consciousness and death

We know that surveyors are actively reviewing the adequacy of staffing, but they are also focusing on the competency of the staff within the community. Allergen awareness training should be part of the onboarding orientation and annual in-service training to ensure the safety of the individuals we serve. At DiningRD we are dedicated to assisting your community in delivering the highest quality nutritional care. DiningRD has created a Food Service Inservice Toolkit that can be used for ongoing training and to ensure competency. This toolkit includes a module on food allergens and intolerances. You may also want to consider Allergen Awareness Certification for your staff that are preparing food on a daily basis. Reach out to to learn more about our certification programs.