Dealing with food allergies in restaurants
Food allergies are a growing public health issue. About 15 million Americans have food allergies; one in 13 children and one in 25 adults.
In some cases, symptoms from ingesting allergens can be severe enough to require medical treatment. Food allergic reactions are responsible for about 30,000 emergency room visits and 150-200 deaths a year.
Dining out can be difficult for people with food allergies because they must rely on restaurant staff to properly prepare their allergen-free meals. A survey of people with food allergies found that one in three had a reaction in a restaurant.
A CDC study found that, in general, managers, food workers, and servers were familiar with food allergies and had positive attitudes about accommodating customers with food allergies. However, there were important gaps.
What the study found
Restaurant managers and staff were generally knowledgeable about food allergies and had positive attitudes about accommodating customers with food allergies. However, some staff
- Incorrectly believed that customers with food allergies could safely eat a small amount of the food they are allergic to.
- Thought that their restaurant might not be able to respond to a food allergy emergency.
The CDC recommends that restaurants implement key practices linked with better food allergy knowledge and more positive attitudes about accommodating customers with food allergies:
- Have a plan for answering questions from customers with food allergies.
- Choose a specific person in the restaurant to handle food allergy questions and requests.
- Provide food allergy training for staff.
- Use dedicated equipment and areas for preparing and cooking meals for customers with food allergies. When this is not feasible, restaurants can clean equipment and workspaces before preparing meals for customers with allergies, according to the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Code guidance.
- Have ingredient lists or recipes for menu items available if they aren’t already.
These practices can help reduce the risk of an allergic reaction.
More resources from the CDC
- Food allergy knowledge and attitudes of restaurant managers and staff: an EHS-Net study [PDF – 176 KB] (scientific article this plain language summary is based on)
- Food Allergies: Knowledge and Attitudes of Restaurant Managers and Staff[PDF – 138 KB] (fact sheet version of this page)
- How Restaurants Address Food Allergies[PDF – 223 KB] (plain language summary of another food allergy article)
- Food Allergens Study (study information)
- More EHS-Net publications by Study Topic or Citation
- More Food Safety Study Findings in Plain Language