Food Allergies And Food Intolerances

For those who suffer from food allergies or intolerances, food can seem like an enemy.

Your kitchen staff is on the front lines of protecting campers who have food allergies or intolerances. Photo Courtesy Signature Services

People struggle daily reading food labels, carefully ordering at restaurants, and double-checking everything they eat.

This is of special concern for food-service professionals at camp, for according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, one in 20 children will have a food allergy, and that number is growing.

It is extremely important that kitchen staff members are aware of the seriousness of food allergies and intolerances, and know how to handle special dietary needs from checking labels to serving the food.

Awareness also goes beyond the kitchen. Counselors and staff personnel should note campers’ allergies as well. Preparation of camp policies, procedures, and staff training are critical in preventing any harmful food reactions.

When talking about special diets, allergies and intolerances are usually grouped together, but they are completely different reactions that occur in the body.

What is a food allergy?

A food-allergy reaction occurs when someone consumes a food product and the immune system responds to a specific protein found in that food. Symptoms of a food allergy include hives, swelling, itching, and in severe cases anaphylaxis, or difficulty in breathing.

These may seem like simple symptoms, but they can be uncomfortable, dangerous, and even result in death, depending on the severity of the allergy.

The “Top 8” allergens are:

• Milk

• Eggs

• Peanuts

• Tree nuts

• Soy

• Wheat

• Fish

• Shellfish.

The most common allergy is to peanuts. Peanuts can also be the most severe, causing reactions in some cases merely when someone is in the same room with the allergen.

Many schools and facilities have even gone peanut-free to prevent such reactions. If your facility has not taken this step, it is important to check labels before serving anything to someone who has a food allergy.

Ingredients labels can be confusing, and allergens are often found in unexpected food products or a food that “may contain traces of nuts,” meaning the item could have been produced in a factory that also makes other products with nuts.

Luckily for those in food service who have to deal with these allergens, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) of 2004 addressed these food allergies. The FALCPA requires food manufacturers to disclose in plain language whether a food product contains one of the eight allergens in any form, even in colors, flavors, or spice blends. It is mandated that the common name be listed among the ingredients or immediately following, with the word “Contains: ____.”

This act makes it easier for food-service professionals to identify whether a product contains a certain allergen.

The “Top 8” allergens make up 90 percent of all food-allergy reactions, but what about the other 10 percent? When serving meals to large numbers of people, such as at a camp, one is bound to come across uncommon allergies as well.

Just this past summer at one camp, some campers had allergies to carrots, melon, strawberries, bell peppers, red dye, and even the spice rosemary. To handle these allergies, a list of special dietary needs must be created and examined before each meal to decide how to handle each person’s special need.

For example, in the case of the rosemary allergy, the camper couldn’t have any marinara sauces; when pasta or pizza appeared on the menu, there was a separate preparation of pasta with sautéed veggies and olive oil, or a margarita-style pizza.

An allergy must be considered individually to ensure safe food is being served to everyone.

What is food intolerance?

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