Foodborne illness

Food Allergen Training – A New Mandatory Illinois Restaurant Regulation

On January 1, 2018, restaurants in Illinois will be faced with implementing an additional regulation. Bill HB2510 amended the Food Handling Regulation Enforcement Act and placed the following requirements into effect:

  • Must have at least one certified food service sanitation manager on duty who is trained in “nationally recognized standards” for food allergen safety and awareness at all times.
  • Those seeking certification or recertification as a food service sanitation manager are also required to undergo training for food allergen safety and awareness.
  • All persons in charge must obtain training in basic allergen awareness principles within 30 days after employment and every 3 years after that.

Keep in mind that as of July 1, 2018, this regulation will be enforced and health inspectors will require proof of ANSI-accredited allergen training.


Where can your Employees Obtain Allergen Safety and Awareness Certification?

Training regarding Allergen Safety and Awareness must be accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health. Training, testing and certification can be obtained online for as little as $10. Here are a few of the sites offering Food Allergen Safety Training:


Why Allergen Safety and Awareness?

Approximately 15 million Americans have food allergies with about 5.9 million of those individuals under the age of 18. For those in the restaurant industry, this growing number is an increasing concern. Every year, approximately 200,000 Americans obtain emergency medical care due to an allergic reaction from food, and approximately 40 percent of children with food allergies have gone into anaphylactic shock—a serious and possibly fatal allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention. Epinephrine is the only known treatment and must be administered within minutes from the onset of the reaction.

According to Food Allergy Research & Education, “Close to half of all fatal food allergy reactions are triggered by food consumed outside the home.”

Here is one of the problems that those in the restaurant industry face—the growing number of guests that state they are lactose intolerant and those that request “gluten free” faire. There is a very big difference between a food allergy and a preference or intolerance. In addition, gluten has a hundred different names such as durum, bulgur and hydrolyzed wheat protein. Knowing the difference and understanding the real concerns of those with food allergies is a step in the right direction for your employees and for your customer’s with serious allergies.


The Eight Biggies

About 90 percent of food allergies are caused by the following foods:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts and tree nuts including walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios, pecans and pine nuts
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Shellfish including crab, lobster, shrimp, crayfish and mussels
  • Fish such as salmon, tuna and halibut
  • Sesame (An increasingly common allergen)

Unfortunately, customers do not always alert servers or other members of your restaurant team that they have a food allergy. For this reason, having “allergy-friendly” meals on your menu can start the conversation. Also, be sure to have a written notice on your menu that requests anyone with a food allergy notify their server. Some restaurants provide, upon request, a list of ingredients for a specific menu item.

Even with these notices, allergic reactions can and do occur from direct consumption or cross-contact and contamination during food preparation.

In June of 2016, a family from Natick, MA sued Panera Bread for negligence when their 6-year-old daughter ended up in the hospital from an allergic reaction. They had ordered a grilled cheese sandwich online and noted in two places that their daughter was allergic to peanuts. Somehow, miscommunication prevailed and instead of ensuring that there was no cross-contamination with peanut products, an employee added a dollop of peanut butter.

Michael’s Bar & Grill, a popular Greek restaurant in St. Louis, was sued by a customer who claimed that the gluten in their gyro salad was responsible for permanent physical injuries. This was a case of “he-said, she-said” with the customer claiming he specifically asked for “gluten free” and the restaurant responding that this salad is not on their gluten-free menu and they would never have recommended it.


Just What is Allergen Safety and Awareness?

Knowing the prevalence of allergens in today’s society and the possible ramifications of not adhering to a strict protocol, it may very well end up being a good thing that some people on your staff develop a thorough understanding of food allergies. Here is a bit of what they’ll know upon completion of the course:

  • How to prevent cross-contamination
  • Effective communication with customers and staff regarding food allergies
  • How to identify allergic reactions and learn how to respond should one occur
  • Awareness of the top foods that are responsible for most allergic responses

Managers that return from training may very well advise that meals for diners with food-allergies be served on a different color or different shaped plate in order to limit mistakes. Not a bad idea!

Never one to be in favor of increasing regulations, the truth, however, is that becoming a restaurant that your customers can count on to keep them healthy and safe, and one that will cater to their specific needs, will ensure lifetime brand-touting loyal guests that will share their experience with friends and family.



Foodborne illness
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