By Alan LaGuardia
If headlines are any indication, most Americans are aware that food allergy issues are increasing across the nation. But recently released statistics are sobering: Allergy issues have increased by 18% over the last 10 years, and half of all allergy fatalities occur outside the home. It's estimated that food allergies are dealt with by more than 15 million American diners. In the restaurant industry, there is no room for error when it comes to food allergen awareness for staff and patrons.
National Restaurant Association ServSafe product manager David Crownover is spearheading the effort to increase food allergen awareness in America's restaurants. In addition to providing information and materials on the subject, he will lead a seminar at the Western Foodservice & Hospitality Expo, speaking about how restaurateurs can manage their kitchens and menus while being aware of allergy issues.
CRA: What do restaurant operators need to know about allergens?
Crownover: Estimates indicate that there are 15 million people in the United States alone that have at least one food allergy. From 1997 to 2007, the CDC estimates that the number of individuals with food allergies rose by 18%. And that trend continues to rise.
So, the National Restaurant Association identified food allergen awareness training for the foodservice industry as a critical focus to help the industry continue to meet the needs of an ever-changing landscape. There are also some estimates that a restaurant can see not only top line revenue increases, but also bottom line profit increases by catering to the food allergic community. Our mission is to "help our members, the cornerstone of their communities, build customer loyalty, rewarding careers and financial success."
CRA: What will a typical allergen training session look like?
Crownover: The ServSafe Allergens Online Course is a highly interactive, avatar-led training program. It's designed to address several course objectives and ultimately help raise the food allergen awareness of the individual taking the course and the restaurant where they work.
The course objectives are:
- define the terms food allergy and food allergen
- recognize the symptoms of a food allergy
- identify the differences between a food allergy, a food intolerance and other food-related diseases
- identify ways to prevent avoid cross-contact in the front of house and back of house
- communicate with guests who have food allergies
- describe how to handle any allergen special orders in the front of house and back of house
- recognize allergen information on food labels.
CRA: Rhode Island and Massachusetts currently have requirements for food-allergen training. Do you see this requirement coming to California in the near future?
I don't know if California will make a requirement for food allergen training in the near future. However, other states continue to consider mandatory training regulations. The course is created in the same manner of the other courses within the ServSafe suite of products. If those states do make training mandatory, the ServSafe Allergens Online Course is designed to meet those needs.
CRA: What topics can attendees expect from your panel discussion at the Western Food and Hospitality Expo?
I will discuss results from a survey that the National Restaurant Association conducted last year. The survey shows the industry's awareness of food allergens and more importantly their training practices on food allergens. Other individuals on the panel will discuss how to address food allergens in menu labeling and how restaurants can easily accommodate the food allergic community.
Crownover's session at WFHE, "Making Menus Matter," will take place from 11:45 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Aug. 18. More details about the event can be found here.
Learn more about ServSafe Allergens at www.servsafe.com/allergens.