Allergy Experts Calling on Food Services for Mandatory Allergy Training

Food Allergy Week (26 May-1 June) aims to bring awareness to food allergies including potentially fatal food allergies. This month’s Food Allergy Week kicked off with allergy experts calling for mandatory allergy training for food service staff and for regulators to treat food allergy management as seriously as the responsible service of alcohol.

The joint call by Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia and the National Allergy Council follows the results of two new surveys that highlighted the gaps in allergy management and the effect this can have on those experiencing allergies.

The National Allergy Council survey found only a third of food service staff surveyed always asked customers if they had a food allergy and 50 per cent didn’t feel confident in answering questions about whether there was a food allergen, such as peanuts, tree nuts or dairy, in a menu item.

While an Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia survey showed 98 per cent of people living with allergies felt anxious and stressed when it came to eating out.

Maria Said AM, Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia CEO and Director, National Allergy Council, said food allergen management training was crucial to make it easier and safer for those living with allergies to eat out with more confidence.

“Allergies among Australians are alarmingly common. More than 1.5 million Australians have a food allergy, one of the highest rates in the world,” Ms Said stated.

“For this reason, training food service staff about allergens should be taken just as seriously as meeting training requirements for serving alcohol. It should be mandatory and there’s really no excuse when the recommended training is available and is free.

“This Food Allergy Week, we are also sending a message to anyone providing food to always ask about food allergies, and to encourage those with food allergies to always speak up about their food allergy. Always Ask. Always Tell.”

Ingrid Roche, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Senior Project Officer for the National Allergy Council, said the survey results show there is room for improvement in the food service sector.

“Everyone needs to be allergy aware because we know that complacency increases the risk of an allergic reaction, including anaphylaxis,” Ms Roche said.

“In Victoria alone, 34 per cent of anaphylaxis presentations to emergency departments last year were caused by food purchased from food service providers.

“The All about Allergens online training was designed in consultation with key stakeholders and users of the courses. With 10 different courses available – there is a course for everyone working in food service. We also designed it to be fast, easy and free to make it as accessible to as many people as possible.”

Ms Said wants everyone with a food allergy to feel confident to speak up and to not miss out on socialising.

“People with food allergy can find it difficult to talk about when eating out, and this combined with stress and anxiety can lead to them avoid eating out altogether. Our survey found 84 per cent of people have avoided a social gathering because of their food allergy,” she said.

“In most cases, those not wanting to speak up about their allergy did not want to be a burden or draw attention to themselves. And among the under 18’s, the main barrier was embarrassment.

“Speaking up is vital. You need to ask questions and make an informed decision on the food you eat, and always carry your adrenaline injector (EpiPen® or Anapen®) and ASCIA Action Plan with you. There is never a 100 per cent guarantee an allergic reaction won’t happen so we all need to be prepared.”

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