Food Allergies in America and How They Can Affect Your Internship
As an intern, it may be hard to fathom that Americans are allergic to food, but in fact, food allergies are more prevalent than ever. More than 15 million Americans are allergic to one or more food items. Of those, 5.9 million of those are children under the age of 18.
Reasons for this have much more to do with what is put into American foods rather than the raw form of the food itself. But, nonetheless, food allergies are a serious condition. As an intern in the hospitality or culinary field, taking these allergies seriously can be the difference between life or death.
What is a food allergy?
The medical condition in which the body is exposed to food that triggers a harmful reaction is known as a food allergy. The body’s immune system recognizes the harmful food as a threat and begins to rapidly attack the substance leading to a host of outward symptoms. A person suffering from food allergies may present with minor symptoms including an itchy mouth our hives. More severe symptoms include swelling in the tongue or throat and/or difficulty breathing. The most intense reaction is anaphylaxis, which if not treated immediately, can result in death.
What are common food allergens?
American companies continue to produce foods with genetically modified products, artificial food dyes, and harmful chemicals. As a result, food allergies in Americans consuming these products continue to rise and new foods are placed on the allergy list each year. While it is hard for anyone to know exactly what they may be allergic to without being exposed to it, here is a list of popular known allergies:
- Tree nuts
- Crustacean Shellfish
- Sesame Seeds
What does this mean to you as an intern?
The food allergen epidemic in American is certainly something to take seriously. When you’re preparing food or serving guests, it’s important to keep your hands and work-space clean and free of potential allergens. If you’ve eaten potentially harmful foods, wash your hands and face thoroughly prior to returning to work. This can greatly reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
The majority of fatal allergic reactions occur in public. This has a lot to do with hidden ingredients and improperly cleaned cooking surfaces. Preventing contact with potentially life-threatening food traces is why many health departments stress the importance of proper cleaning procedures for kitchen surfaces and cooking utensils. Taking the proper steps can mean the difference between life and death for a food allergy sufferer.
Depending on the rules of your workplace, you may or may not need to ask guests about potential food allergens. In most cases, guests will let you know what foods they need to avoid. In this case, make a point to keep serving utensils separate from potentially harmful foods.
Knowing what ingredients make up each dish is vital
Understanding the menu and each element in every dish goes a long way in preventing allergic reactions. If you don’t know a food is cooked in peanut oil or that milk is used to make the cream sauce on their pasta, you may be putting your guests at risk. Continual training in the menu and dining room procedures will provide you with the knowledge and confidence to serve high-risk guests.
What happens if a guest has an allergic reaction?
Guests with severe food allergies usually know about them ahead of time and will probably have proper medication to combat the reaction. They may have medication in the form of an Epipen to inject into their leg. However, the Epipen may not always suppress the reaction or it may be a guest who is experiencing an allergic reaction for the first time.
In the event of this emergency, the most important step is to remain calm and call for emergency services. The call can be made by you, your manager, or a guest. You may have training on this very incident in your first weeks as an intern as most workplaces have an emergency plan in place specifically these cases.
Knowing is half the battle
While allergies are to be taken seriously, it should not define the dining experience for you or your guests. Most Americans know what to look for and what to avoid when eating in public. In many cases, they may not even mention the allergy because they are able to take the necessary precautions themselves.
Your job is to relay any allergen information to the chef, to practice the basic principles of food safety, and ensure your guests are taken care of in the best way possible.