Food Allergies in Adults Are on the Rise: Here’s How to Accommodate Them in Your Catering Order
- Meredith Bethune
- 5 Min Read
Severe allergic reactions to foods have increased by nearly five times over the past decade, according to the Wall Street Journal. The cause of this sudden uptick in food allergies in adults and children remains a mystery. It’s possible to have an allergy to just about any food, and all allergens should be treated in the same manner.
Luckily, the precautions for reducing the risk of anaphylaxis are the same for every allergen. The person with food allergies must avoid any contact with the specific trigger food at all costs. That goes beyond accidentally eating the offending food— some people are so sensitive they need to avoid even touching trace amounts. Keep in mind, the eight most common offenders comprise 90 percent of food allergies. They are:
- Peanuts: This includes peanut butter, peanut oil, mixed nuts, beer nuts, and peanut flour
- Tree nuts: Almonds, beechnuts, Brazil nuts, pecans, cashew, coconuts, gingko nuts, hickory nuts, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts, but also marzipan, Nutella, nut butters, almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk, pesto, and pralines.
- Eggs: Both whites and yolk but also dried and powdered eggs, eggnog, meringue, egg substitutes, ice cream, lecithin, marzipan, marshmallows, nougat, pasta, pretzels, and many baked goods and specialty coffee drinks.
- Shellfish: Crab, shrimps, lobster, crawfish, abalone, clams, cockles, cuttlefish, mussels, periwinkle, sea cucumber, sea urchin, scallops, snails and escargot, whelk. Sometimes also squid, octopus, fish sauce, and curry pastes.
- Milk: Butter, butter fat, buttermilk, casein, cheese, cottage cheese, cream, curds, custard, ghee, half-and-half, pudding, sour cream, yogurt, caramel candies, nougat, margarine, and chocolate. Also be careful with shellfish, tuna fish, lunch meats, and sausages.
- Wheat: Bread crumbs, bulgar, cereals, couscous, crackers, flour, pasta, seitan, semolina, wheat germ, wheat grass, wheat berries, soy sauce, and often beer, baked goods, batter fried foods, candy, hot dogs, imitation crab meat, ice cream, marinara sauce, potato chips, salad dressings, soups, and rice cakes.
- Soy: Soy oil, edamame, miso, natto, shoyu, soy, tamari, tempeh, tofu.
- Fish: Fish sauce, anchovies, bass, catfish, cod, flounder, grouper, haddock, halibut, herring, perch, pike, pollock, salmon, sole, swordfish, tilapia, trout, and also fish gelatins and broth. Also be careful with barbecue sauce, worcestershire sauce, and salad dressings.
Some less common food allergies include:
- Corn: Cereals, candies, jams, syrups, sauces, snack foods, canned fruits, lunch meats, sausages, and sweetened beverages.
- Meat: Beef, chicken, mutton, pork, and gelatin. Some people who are allergic to one type aren’t allergic to others.
- Seeds: Poppy seed, sunflower seeds, seed butters, Benne seed, halvah, sesame flour, sesame oil, sesame paste, sesame seeds, tahini, cereals, crackers, hummus, falafel, and some sushi, chips, and baked goods.
- Spices: Coriander, garlic, mustard.
Food allergies in adults and children shouldn’t be confused with intolerances like celiac disease (the autoimmune disorder caused by gluten) or oral allergy syndrome where some raw fruits cause and itchy or sore throat. People with allergies are at grave risk for anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal immune reaction that can lead to trouble breathing. In the severely allergic, ingesting or merely touching even a trace amount of the allergen can trigger their bodies to go into shock. Food intolerances, on the other hand, can indeed cause severe physical reactions, but they don’t typically send people to the emergency room.
Putting a colleague’s life at risk would, of course, be the worst possible outcome of unknowingly feeding them an allergen. But, by following a few easy guidelines, you can also avoid everyday annoyances like ordering too much or the wrong kind of food or causing a team member to feel excluded. Take these steps to accommodate food allergies in the adults at your office:
Designate a Point Person
Select one member of your team to maintain a list of everyone’s food allergies. They can also keep track of intolerances and dietary restrictions like gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan, but remember that allergies, due to their life-threatening nature, should always take priority. This point person can ask a new employee about their dietary restrictions shortly after onboarding them. He or she can then be a resource for anyone placing catering orders.
Compile a List of Caterers
Thoroughly research some potential caterers available in the area before placing an order. Although they might not necessarily be allergen-free, categories like gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian-friendly, and vegan-friendly might be more accommodating. Mediterranean cuisine can be a great option because it relies heavily on vegetables and is easily customizable. Mexican food is another possibility, while a salad bar with individual containers of chopped vegetables, meats, cheeses, and other toppings can please everyone’s individual needs. Asian dishes can also work sometimes, but watch out for hidden ingredients like peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. After you identify and work with a caterer that’s particularly accommodating to food allergies, be sure to make a note of it for the future.
Communicate Clearly When Placing an Order
After checking in with the allergy point person, the responsibility is on those placing catering orders to warn potential caterers about any food allergies in the group. They should inquire about the caterer’s ability to accommodate allergies, emphasize their life-threatening nature, and verify whether the business prepares allergen-free food in a separate area of the kitchen. They can also ask lots of questions about the menu and encourage the catering staff to double-check the ingredients in potential dishes. Unfortunately, menu descriptions don’t always highlight common allergens like peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, crustaceans, dairy, wheat, soy, or fish. According to Restaurant Business, they also regularly hide in seemingly innocuous dishes like salad dressing, curries, vegetable purees, soups, and more. Above all, make sure the caterer packs any allergen-free orders separately from the rest of the food.
Separate Allergen-Free Dishes and Label Them
Consider the layout of the room where you’ll be serving the food. Ask caterers if they can label the allergen-free dishes or consider creating simple labels yourself. It’s imperative to reserve separate platters and utensils for allergen-free foods and consider placing them on a different table altogether. Of course, you might not always be able to accommodate every single event attendee who suffers from food allergies, particularly if they’re sensitive to several different foods, but it’s vital to convey that honestly. Their safety depends on it.
Looking for a caterer who can accommodate for food allergies? Start here.
Ready to tackle ordering allergy-friendly food for your team?