Do you know if you have food allergies? Do you take special precautions when dining out to avoid certain types of food? Do you ever wonder if restaurants, delis, and cafeterias follow food safety guidelines and use proper care when handling and preparing your meals?
If the answers to these questions are yes, you’re not alone. An estimated 500 million people worldwide, including 12 million Americans, have been diagnosed with food allergies. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 200,000 people in the US are treated in emergency rooms every year for allergic reactions to food; 2,000 are admitted for more treatment; 150 die.
When the body’s immune system reacts abnormally to something you eat or drink, the condition is known as anaphylaxis. Symptoms vary, depending on the magnitude of the allergy, but typically include difficulty breathing, swollen lips and tongue, a drop in blood pressure, dizziness, sneezing, watery eyes, itchy eyes, skin rash, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea. The symptoms usually begin within minutes of consuming the trigger food or drink. If left untreated, they can become serious enough to obstruct airways and be life threatening.
So what do you do to prevent a serious allergic reaction to a food or drink? First and foremost, know your own body and avoid contact with allergic food items if you know you have an allergy. These “Big 8” foods are responsible for more than 90% of all food allergies.
1) Tree nuts;
7) Fish; and
Sure, you have better control of your food when you’re at home. You can read the labels to find out what the ingredients are. When you dine out, however, you need to be more vigilant and take special care to find out what ingredients are in the prepared food. Here are some easy ways to do that:
- Ask your server if the food item contains a specific allergen (i.e., shellfish).
- Ask how the restaurant controls cross contamination when storing, preparing, and cooking your food. There should be a process to separate allergy-free foods from food allergens.
- Ask if the restaurant offers a special menu with allergy-free dining options.
The restaurant should also partner with your local hospital and medical clinics to train staff in recognizing people with food allergy symptoms and what to do if someone is having a serious allergic reaction. Severely allergic people should also manage the condition by carrying an Epi Pen, which is used to inject epinephrine to counter the allergic reaction.
If you’re not sure if you have a food allergy, get a skin test from a board certified medical specialist. Then you’ll know what foods to avoid and can make safe, informed choices when dining at home or at a restaurant.
This blog post was written by Bill Nienaber, Senior Loss Prevention Representative for West Bend.