Restaurant staff need to brush up on food allergy knowledge and attitudes

Allergen awareness, knowledge and labelling practices within the foodservice sector have come under a lot of scrutiny in recent times, and it would seem this is for very good reason. A German study of restaurant staff has revealed several critical areas for improvement among food service workers.

The research team collected data face-to-face from 295 staff members in 275 restaurants in Düsseldorf, Germany. Knowledge was assessed by asking participants to name three common food allergens and to answer five true/false-statements. Seven items within the survey assessed attitudes.

Eighteen per cent of the staff surveyed were unable to correctly name any food allergen, and only 30 per cent of the respondents correctly named three food allergens. Forty-one per cent attained a perfect score on the true/false statements.

Thirty-five per cent of respondents thought a customer having an allergic reaction could be treated by serving them cold water to “dilute the allergen”, while one in five believed removing an allergen from a finished meal could be all that was necessary to provide a safe meal for a customer with an allergy. Almost 20 per cent agreed they would prefer not to serve customers with food allergies. Female restaurant staff were less likely than male staff to believe that customers’ reports of food allergies were untrue.

Almost all participants were aware that food allergies can cause death, and agreed that kitchen staff and food service staff need to be knowledgeable about food allergies. Knowledge levels were higher in managers, and also in staff with the highest school degree. Knowledge levels also increased with an increasing number of tables in the restaurant.

The full details of the survey and analysis of findings are available via the Open Access paper published in the April 2019 issue of Plos One.