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by Matt Alderton | August 23, 2013

An estimated 9 million American adults have food allergies, according to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). Although that’s a relatively small number — only 4 percent of the nation’s adult population — it has large consequences for meeting planners, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), which this week published a guide to food allergies written especially for event planners.

Written and reviewed by food allergy experts, then published on AAAAI’s website, the guide offers event-specific tips for allergy-related education, communication and planning.

“Eating at a catered event presents special circumstances,” AAAAI explained in a statement. “Many important ‘screening’ steps and decisions may be taken out of the control of food-allergic guests, including not having the opportunity to assess the food allergy knowledge and policies of the catering hall. Another complicating factor is that many menu items served at events are pre-prepared or at least ‘prepped’ prior to the arrival of the guests. In other words, many foods are handled or prepared without being able to prevent cross contact … [which] is a common cause of allergic reactions.”

To prevent allergic reactions among food-allergic event attendees — which can affect the skin, gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract and, in the most serious cases, cardiovascular system — planners should focus first on effective communication.

“Safety depends on effective communication and partnering between the event planners, any staff responsible for any of the food eaten by guests with food allergies and guests,” AAAAI says. “Event planners need to ask if there are attendees with food allergies and provide those food-allergic attendees with opportunities to notify them of any special accommodations. This helps planners, caterers and other eating establishments plan for safe alternatives when possible. It also gives guests time to work through acceptable and safe alternatives.”

Additional precautions for event planners include offering a wide variety of foods to accommodate all allergies and restrictions — including simple options that can be made from scratch for specific guests — and always labeling food offerings with ingredients and preparation methods.

“It is the responsibility of guests to respond to planners’ requests to alert them of their allergy needs and follow up by always alerting the server and manager about allergies upon arriving at the function,” AAAAI concludes. “But all catering staff, which includes front of the house, back of the house, management, etc., must have protocols for dealing with food allergy, as well as thorough training. The training should include communication, label reading, knowledge of hidden ingredients, prevention of cross contact and/or cleaning techniques, and processes for promptly dealing with allergic and other medical emergencies.”


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