How to Spot the Onset of a Food Allergy and What to Do About It

If you serve food for a living, one of the last things you want to experience during a shift is to witness a patron suffering from a food allergy attack. The scene can be rather intense and an allergic reaction can even bring a victim to the brink of death. You might easily forget that such an event could occur, but unfortunately it does.

food allergy chalkboard

While food manufacturers list ingredients on labels, typically emphasizing common allergens at the bottom, restaurant general managers are less inclined to share all the ingredients for every item on the menu. This puts waiters and waitresses in the position of having to field questions about ingredients from someone who has food allergies.

But what happens when a patron does not ask about the ingredients and is served an allergen? Or what if someone is unaware he or she has a food allergy and finds out the hard way? There is a chance that person may be in the company of someone who knows what's going on and how to provide relief, but if that person is dining alone, or in the case of a surprise allergy attack, you may be the next best person to jump in and save the day. That is, if you have the knowledge and ability to help the victim.

Let's take a look at some of the important things you should know when it comes to food allergies, including recognizing the start to a food allergy attack, steps for helping the sufferer, and knowing when it's time to call for professional help.

  • Become very familiar with the most common food allergens and then, on a regular basis, cross-reference those allergens against the restaurant's current menu. Be closely aware of any allergens served more often during certain parts of the day, such as eggs during breakfast, peanuts in the desserts, etc.
  • Allergic responses to food can take many forms; sometimes it may resemble the symptoms of hay fever, including a runny or stuffy nose, wheeziness in the lungs, or a tight cough. More commonly, a food allergy sufferer will exhibit one or more of these symptoms:



o   Discomfort and inflammation in the mouth and throat

o   Nausea

o   Intense stomach pain

o   Hives

o   Difficulty breathing

  • If you identify these symptoms in a patron, or the patron informs you he or she is experiencing the symptoms, here are some things you can do:

o   Ask the patron and/or accompanying guests if he or she has any known food allergies

o   Gauge the severity of the reaction

o   Ask if there is anything you can do to help

o   Begin to think about the ingredients used in that person's meal to determine if there are any common allergens present

o   Check on the patron regularly to make sure symptoms are not worsening

o   Check for a medical alert bracelet that may list the wearer's food allergies and necessary steps for treatment

o   If the symptoms progress quickly don't hesitate to call 911 for help, and ask the victim and accompanying guests if any of them have an EpiPen in their possession

If the allergic reaction is severe, chances are the episode will catch the attention of nearby patrons. Try not to stress too much about meeting all the needs of the other guests at that moment; they will likely understand your need to address an emergency situation. One of the best things you can do throughout the episode is to maintain calm and order for the victim, the victim's guests, and other patrons of the restaurant.

For more information and to discover statistics about food allergies, please see the infographic: 

Contributed to by Kim Evans

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