Study: Restaurant workers often don’t understand food allergies

Individuals afflicted with food allergies (or responsible for the care of a person with food allergies) might be interested in a new British study of how knowledgeable restaurant and catering staff are on the protocols for safely handling food and serving individuals who suffer from the food-related reactions.

The study points heavily to catered foods as a risk factor, and says catering environments (like weddings) were far more likely to sicken or facilitate a fatal reaction in individuals who are vulnerable:

“A disproportionate number of food-provoked fatal anaphylactic reactions in the United Kingdom between 1999 and 2006 occurred after ingesting catered food. Food handlers’ poor knowledge may contribute to this elevated risk,” wrote the researchers from the public health division of Brighton and Sussex Medical School. “Currently, little training on food allergy is included in the generic food-hygiene training that is compulsory for all food handlers.”

Almost 25% of those surveyed labored under the impression that drinking a glass of water could diffuse an allergic reaction when an individual consumed an allergy-triggering food. 23% believed that consuming a small amount of triggering foods, such as tree nuts or shellfish, would not harm the allergic individuals. 21% believed that diners could “pick out” allergy causing foods and still consume the dish without risk.

According to the study, lack of knowledge about lack of knowledge was part of the problem in the staff surveyed:

“Alarmingly there was no association between the respondents’ knowledge and their comfort level in providing a safe meal to food-allergic customers,” the researchers wrote. “Staff with high comfort and low knowledge are potentially dangerous, as they may convey an exaggerated sense of competence to their customers, giving them false reassurance.”

The findings were published in this month’s Clinical Experimental Allergy.