Evaluating the general public’s food allergen knowledge gap

People who work in food production and processing, as well as food-allergic individuals, can tell you a lot about food allergens — what they are, how they work, and even how they are regulated and labeled. A new study shows, however, that the general public may still have a knowledge gap about food allergens, including those who handle food in restaurants.

A team of researchers quizzed nearly 300 restaurant workers in Düsseldorf, Germany about their food allergen expertise. Could they identify major allergens? Did they know how allergic reactions worked, and did they feel comfortable serving food-allergic diners? Roughly 10% of people in Europe and North America have food allergies, and evidence suggests that percentage is growing.

“We looked at knowledge and attitudes, and the key finding would be that the knowledge levels are not as good as we would expect in restaurant staff, because these are the people that are handling food on a daily basis,” senior researcher Adrian Loerbroks told CNN.

The findings:

  • Just 30% of workers could correctly name three food allergens
  • 41% could correctly answer five true-or-false questions about food allergies
  • 42% reported not believing diners claiming to have food allergies
  • 19% said they’d prefer not to serve food-allergic diners

The bigger picture

As the number of food-allergic people grows, it will become increasingly important for the public to understand food allergies. Allergens will continue to be a hot topic for food processors and packagers, as labeling regulations will be refined and adjusted.

Undeclared allergens have been a major cause of food recalls in recent years, and the past few years has seen the food industry tighten its food safety plans to prevent this. Stricter Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plans are now the norm as the industry shifts its focus from reactive to preventive, and this attitude shift will likely continue to flow through all levels of the food industry, from the processing plant to the restaurant.

Neogen is a leader in the development of food allergen diagnostic tests for the food industry. See our website for more information.

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