Infusing Your Menu with Flexibility for Allergies and Dietary Restrictions

Food Allergies on the Rise

Global estimates indicate that 2.5% of the general population suffers from food allergies. Due to a disparity of reporting and research throughout different regions of the world, experts believe there could be as many as 520 million people worldwide dealing with food allergies. Out of the food allergies reported, peanuts, tree nuts, milk, and shellfish are the most common allergens across all age groups. These allergies occur when the immune system of the afflicted individual attacks proteins that are seemingly harmless to most people.

Furthermore, studies conducted by the Center for Disease Control between 1997 and 1999, and then again between 2009 and 2011, show that food allergies in children have increased by more than 50% in that period. While further studies in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia show tree nut and peanut allergies have more than doubled in the last decade. Unfortunately, data specific to the current percentage of food allergy sufferers in the Caribbean is limited. However, global statistics would indicate that a similar rise in allergy rates could be assumed. Food suppliers and foodservice professionals working in the Caribbean would benefit from understanding the needs of the thousands of visitors from across the globe.

5 Most Common Food Allergies

While a variety of often used ingredients can cause allergic reactions, there are five that are most common.

  1. Cow’s Milk. Often, allergies to cow’s milk occur in babies and toddlers and will be outgrown by the age of three. However, 10% of the afflicted will have a lifelong allergy. A milk allergy, often confused with lactose intolerance, is a significantly more dangerous condition with exposure resulting in swelling, hives, vomiting, and anaphylaxis in as little as five minutes.
  2. Eggs. Egg allergies can be tricky to manage. More often than not, an individual can be allergic to the proteins in yolks, whites, or both. Also, egg proteins can change with cooking in such a way that the immune system will no longer detect it as a threat. Therefore, a person may have an allergic reaction to a dressing made with egg yolks, but safely eat cakes or bread containing eggs.
  3. Tree Nuts. Approximately 2% of the worldwide population is believed to have an allergy to some or all nuts and seeds that grow on trees. One of the most dangerous of the food allergies, tree nuts are responsible for 50% of all anaphylaxis deaths in the United States alone.
  4. Peanuts. It is not unusual for a person with a tree nut allergy to also be allergic to peanuts, although the two conditions are different. Peanuts are legumes, and many people with a peanut allergy can safely consume tree nuts and vice versa. However, the reactions are similar and equally dangerous.
  5. Shellfish. Of particular interest to food outlets in coastal and many vacation destinations, allergic reactions to shellfish can occur when an afflicted person comes into contact with even the fumes from cooking shellfish. Swelling, vomiting, and anaphylaxis from shellfish exposure present very quickly.

Making Your Menus More Allergy-Friendly

As a professional in the foodservice industry, you have the responsibility of ensuring a safe dining experience for a wide range of customers. The best way of doing this is to educate your staff, both front and back of the house. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network and Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) have developed training guidelines to share with your staff regarding safe practices for handling guests with allergy concerns. In addition, there are a few ways that you can adapt your menus to make them more allergy-friendly.

Marinades, dressings, and braising liquid recipes often call for ingredients that include allergens. Leaving eggs, milk products, Worcestershire, soy sauce, fish sauces, and nut oils out of your recipes for these items will make it much easier to adapt dishes for allergy sufferers. Desserts and savory dishes that include nuts, while wildly popular, can be dangerous for those that suffer from nut allergies even through exposure, not necessarily ingestion. Many restaurants have found success catering to allergy sufferers with multiple menus, and keeping food preparations of common allergens separate from other food prep areas. Moreover, if your establishment purchases pre-made products from a distributor, like dressings, marinades, stocks, sauces, and soup bases, you should educate your staff about the ingredients in these products, keeping in mind that producers may change the ingredients at any time.

Infusing your menu with flexibility for allergy sufferers is vital when dealing with a broad spectrum of guests. If you have any questions about allergens or specific dietary requirements, contact us today. Our Merchants Market team is prepared to get you the answers that you need.

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