We Are Chefs

11 Tips to Accommodate Food-Allergic Guests

This dish is beautiful, but could be deadly for a guest with a food allergy.

By Francine L. Shaw

A hot and important trend in foodservice is accommodating food-allergic guests. According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), it’s estimated that an estimated 15 million Americans have food allergies.

The foods responsible for 90% of all allergic responses are known as The Big 8: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soybeans, wheat, fish and shellfish. For this reason, food allergy training is slowly being implemented across the U.S., which is a positive thing for food-allergic customers, as well as the restaurants that serve them. Emphasize to your staff that if a food-allergic guest ingests even a trace amount of their food allergen, it can trigger a reaction, and in severe cases, even death.

Eggs are considered one of The Big 8 food allergens.

In 2015, 16-year-old Scott Johnson died after eating two pancakes at a Minnesota diner. Allegedly, staff members confirmed that the flapjacks were dairy-free, and the cook even agreed to clean the grill before making them. There was a mistake somewhere in the diner’s protocol, and the teen accidentally ate dairy in his meal. Shortly after consuming the pancakes, Scott went into anaphylactic shock and died three days later.

Scott Johnson’s death shows why it is imperative that your staff know what ingredients are used in each menu item. One of the most important elements of proper food safety protocol is avoiding cross-contact, a relatively new term, in which proteins from foods containing an allergen are transferred to foods not containing that allergen. Make certain that your staff understands what cross-contact means and how to prevent it.

An example of cross-contact is chopping peanuts on a cutting board and then chopping salad greens on the same board. A peanut-allergic guest can have a reaction from eating the greens that came into contact with the peanuts during prep. Thermometers are also a common source of cross-contact because they are frequently inserted from one food item into another without being properly sanitized. I strongly recommend color-coded thermometers (and other equipment, as well) to designate allergy-friendly tools.

Rubbermaid® Commercial Products’ (RCP) Color-Coded Foodservice System earned the ACF Seal of Approval.

Many people also believe using hand sanitizer is an effective way to manage food allergens. This is not accurate. Experts have proven that antibacterial gels are not effective in removing food proteins. Changing gloves and washing hands with soap and water are two effective methods to eliminate allergen exposure.

It is vital that everyone on your team understands how to properly handle an order for guests with food allergies and intolerances. Consumers are increasingly seeking out establishments where they can dine worry free, many of them driving an hour or more to eat safely. These establishments will earn brand loyalty increase profitability by catering to these diners.

Here’s some advice to make your restaurant safer for food-allergic guests:


Francine L. Shaw is President of Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc., which offers a robust roster of services, including consulting, food safety training, food safety inspections, norovirus policies for employees, norovirus clean-up procedures, curriculum development, responsible alcohol service training and more. Francine has been featured as a food safety expert in numerous media outlets, including the Dr. Oz Show, Huffington Post, iHeartRadio, Food Safety News and Food Management Magazine.