As a member of the Austin culinary arts scene, you will spend some time learning about food allergens and how to keep your customers safe. There are many triggers for uncomfortable and potentially fatal food allergies that must be carefully handled to prevent reactions. As many as 15 million individuals in the U.S. have allergies, leading to more than 300,000 ambulatory care visits among young people under age 18 every year, according to Food Allergy Research and Education . It’s important to understand potential causes and treatments of these allergens in case you run across them in your restaurant career.
Common food allergens
According to FARE, there are 8 foods that cause 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions in the U.S. Peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, soy, shellfish, fish, wheat and milk are the main culprits of allergy reactions that come from food in America. Other, less-reported allergens include spices, meat, seeds, corn and gelatin. Some people react to allergens only when they are raw and find that their allergy weakens once the item has been cooked in some way. Others are allergic to one part of an allergen, such as the skin on an apple, but can eat a variation of the food.
Common food allergy reactions
When you are working in the Texas culinary arts industry, you may come across someone who is having an allergic reaction to food. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are several common symptoms exhibited by people having an allergic reaction:
- Stomach pain, hives, sneezing, uterine contractions, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, redness of the skin or eyes, eczema, nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty breathing and swallowing, turning blue, shortness of breath, drop in blood pressure, chest pain, a weak pulse, a sense of impending doom, loss of consciousness
What to do if you see someone having a reaction
Many people who have mild food allergy symptoms turn to antihistamines to alleviate their symptoms. Severe reactions like anaphylactic shock must be treated with epinephrine immediately or it is possible that a fatality will occur. Individuals with severe allergic reactions often carry this medicine in the form of self-injectable devices called an EpiPen, Auvi-Q or Adrenaclick. Individuals with severe reactions know how to use the devices but may not always be calm enough or physically able to administer them when they need it. Some people with severe allergies wear a medical I.D. bracelet to denote the items they are allergic to and what to do if they are unable to treat the issue themselves. If you find someone who is unable to speak or is unconscious, check their wrists and neck for a bracelet or necklace of this nature before trying to assess the situation yourself.
Epinephrine comes in “pens” that have a plastic case that is clear to allow for easy identification. Simply remove the device from the case and take off the safety cap. In one fluid motion, stab the injector into the outer side of a person’s thigh. A retractable needle will inject the individual with the epinephrine they need to stay alive. If it is done right, you will not see the needle because it will immediately retreat into the plastic casing. This does not mean the injection didn’t work. The person getting the medicine will feel it instantaneously and should regain consciousness and have an easier time breathing right away. Whenever an epinephrine medicine is used, the individual should be taken to the hospital via ambulance or responsible licensed driver as soon as possible so their breathing and heart rate can be monitored.
There is no cure for food allergies. The people who are most at risk are children and young adults. Some people find their reactions to specific allergens weaken as they get older and they may even grow out of the allergy. Individuals with serious and multiple allergies often see an allergen specialist at regular intervals to test their sensitivity.