5 ways to consider guests with food allergies

Food allergies are a concern for many restaurant customers. Approximately 2.5 million Canadians report at least one food allergy.* That’s roughly one out of every 14 people. Since there is currently no cure for food allergies, these people must avoid their allergens to prevent a reaction, which in some cases can be life-threatening (known as anaphylaxis).

When it comes to dining out, restaurant owners, servers and customers share in the responsibility to create a safe and enjoyable dining experience. Here’s some information to help. A special thanks to Food Allergy Canada (formerly known as Anaphylaxis Canada).


What is a ‘food allergy’?

This term refers to a variety of adverse or abnormal reactions to food, ranging from moderate symptoms to severe or life-threatening reactions. Food allergies can be caused by an abnormal response of the body’s immune system to a normally accepted substance, otherwise known as an allergen. Here are five common symptoms to watch for:


Skin system: Hives, swelling, itching, warmth, redness, rash

Respiratory system (breathing): coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest pain/tightness, throat tightness, hoarse voice, nasal congestion of hay fever—like symptoms (runny itchy nose and watery eyes, sneezing), trouble swallowing

Gastrointestinal system (stomach): nausea, pain/cramps, vomiting, diarrhea

Cardiovascular system (heart): pale/blue colour, weak pulse, passing out, dizzy/lightheaded, shock

Other: anxiety, feeling of “impending doom,” headache, uterine cramps, metallic taste


What can you do?

  1. Avoid cross-contamination in your kitchen.
    Need help understanding what can cause cross-contamination? Check out our Food Safety Code of Practice.
  2. Wash hands before and after preparing food.
    This blog on how to wash your hands correctly can point you in the right direction!
  3. Know your ingredients, and give your staff access to complete ingredient information.
    Identifying and communicating ingredient information requires a careful and organized approach, especially when dealing with food allergens. All ingredient lists or charts must be kept up to date, as they can quickly become outdated due to supplier or cooking changes. Check out our guide to allergies.
  4. Establish a clear policy and plans for staff to follow.
    This policy should be understood and practiced by all staff. Make sure it includes the process your restaurant has in place to help protect consumers with allergies, how you will communicate ingredient information to customers, and what allergen management plans have been developed for both the BOH and FOH.
  5. Inform and train staff to effectively communicate with customers.
    It’s important that all staff understand how to respond to questions from consumers with food allergies. Refer to our Allergy Guide for Restaurants for examples of how to do this.


And MOST important: Prepare an emergency plan.

Every establishment should have an emergency response process for dealing with allergic reactions. This process should be clearly documented and shared with all staff. For further information on planning for an emergency, refer to our Allergy Guide.


Safely managing food allergies is an ongoing process that requires commitment, vigilance and teamwork. If you’re unsure about where to start, Restaurants Canada’s Food Allergies: A Guide For Restaurants is a great resource that outlines process and procedures in an easy way.

Need more guidance? Give us a call today: 1-800-387-5649. We’d be happy to help!

*Overall Prevalence of Self-reported Food Allergy in Canada, L. Soller et al, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (2012). Doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2012.06.029
Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 8.36.15 AM13985 CRFA Logo BIL 3C FA


Content Marketing Specialist at Restaurants Canada. For inquiries or guest submissions, contact achauhan@restaurantscanada.org

  • Michel Gagnon

    De bonnes manières de prévention… Très bon article.