Restaurant staff and food allergy: still a way to go

I have just received a press release from Wiley Blackwell entitled “Many Restaurant Staff are Undertrained and Misinformed about Food Allergies”.

It speaks for itself, really. The release concerns a study published in Clinical and Experimental Allergy and the bare facts are concerning for all with food sensitivities.

Research was led by Professor Helen Smith of Brighton and Sussex Medical School. Her team of researchers telephoned 90 table-service restaurants in Brighton to assess staff knowledge of food allergy and to determine how comfortable they felt providing meals to food allergic customers.

Here are some of the results:

* In one in three kitchens, common food allergens (e.g. eggs, peanuts, wheat, milk, nuts, fish) were not separated from other foods.

* One in five staff members thought an allergic customer consuming a small amount of allergen would be safe, as would removing the allergen from a finished meal (for instance, picking the nuts off a dessert).

* Only one third of respondents had received any sort of food allergy training – but 80% reported confidence in providing a safe meal for their food-allergic customers.

The release concludes with a note from Smith advising diners to remain vigilant and not assume staff are knowledgeable about food allergies and calling for more ‘rigorous and accessible training’.

This focused on food allergy, where lives can be at stake, but could easily apply to coeliac disease and food intolerance too. The coeliac community have recently been up in arms about a chef who appeared to show so much disregard to the condition that he claimed to have deliberately fed gluten-free diners gluten, but this research is perhaps a useful reminder that they – and others sensitive to foods – are more likely to be put at risk by carelessness, false confidence, ignorance and lack of training, than any deliberate act.

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