Business Insight
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Busting the 5 Biggest Myths Around Food Allergy and Intolerance

  • While pressure is increasing on foodservice workers to make sure their food is safe for customers with allergies and intolerances to eat, they’re not necessarily armed with the knowledge to make that happen
  • The good news is there are free online courses and resources which are easy to access and can educate staff about how to prepare food safely
  • We bust the biggest myths around food intolerance and allergies – such as that the two terms are interchangeable, and that reactions can be alleviated with water
  • It’s also the case that trigger ingredients can’t be rendered harmless by cooking or boiling, that even small amounts can’t necessarily be tolerated, and that simply removing an ingredient from a meal prior to serving isn’t going to make it safe for the customer to consume

The number of Australians diagnosed with food allergies and intolerances has been constantly on the rise for many years. With this trend showing no signs of slowing, there’s increasing pressure to provide food that’s safe for these customers to eat. The problem is chefs, cooks and front of house staff aren’t necessarily armed with the knowledge to make that happen – their expertise is in preparing and serving food, not identifying allergens!

The good news is that there are free online courses and resources which are easy to access and can educate foodservice workers about how to prepare food safely for those customers who need to avoid triggers for allergies and intolerances. The courses at foodallergytraining.org.au provide a comprehensive step by step overview – and will help bust some of the biggest myths around food intolerance and allergies that research shows are still held by some foodservice staff:

MYTH 1: Food allergy and intolerance are interchangeable terms

Food allergies and intolerances are two different types of reactions – allergies are a reaction involving the body’s immune system, whereas food intolerance is not. While food intolerance can cause extremely unpleasant reactions, such as bloating and stomach cramps, food allergies can be life-threatening if an anaphylactic response is triggered. This can cause difficulty breathing, shock, vomiting and nausea and if untreated can rapidly lead to unconsciousness or even death.

Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency and the appropriate response is to immediately call 000.

MYTH 2: The reactions of food allergy and intolerance can be diluted with water

Research has shown that one of the most common misconceptions is that serving water to customers can alleviate their symptoms. This is not the case, and given that the typical reaction to food intolerance includes bloating, drinking more water can actually make symptoms worse. In the case of an anaphylactic allergic reaction, drinking water can lead to choking.

MYTH 3: Cooking or boiling ingredients that cause allergies and intolerances can nullify their effect

According to Coeliac Australia, the industry association for people with coeliac disease which is a medically diagnosed gluten intolerance, a common myth is that gluten can be destroyed at high temperatures. For this reason some foodservice workers assume that it’s safe to use the same fryers and toasters for gluten free food as for regular meals containing gluten.

In fact gluten containing ingredients can cross-contaminate any gluten free food that’s prepared in the same workspace and with the same implements as food containing gluten. The only way to make food 100 per cent gluten free is to prepare it in a separate area with separate implements and ensure there is no way that cross-contamination can occur.

For example, when preparing a gluten free pizza, you need to make sure the gluten free base doesn’t come into contact with any regular wheat flour or other ingredients containing gluten while preparing the pizza. Even a slight dusting of flour residue on your work surface can be enough to cause cross-contamination.

MYTH 4: Small amounts of ingredients that cause allergies or intolerances in a person are safe for that person to eat

While the tolerance level for foods that trigger allergies and intolerances varies from person to person, and it’s true that some customers may be able to consume small amounts without a reaction, for other people there is no safe level of a trigger ingredient. Therefore, you can’t assume that even a tiny amount will be OK – it could be enough to cause a potentially life-threatening reaction.

MYTH 5: Removing a trigger ingredient from the meal prior to serving is all that’s necessary to ensure it’s safe for the customer to consume

At first glance this may seem like a simple solution, but the problem again is that for many people there is no safe level of a trigger ingredient. Even if you think you’ve removed all visible traces of an ingredient from the food, that doesn’t mean there’s not a residue which will trigger a reaction. What’s more, during cooking ingredients can melt, spread and mix with the rest of the meal – so taking a trigger ingredient out after the meal has been cooked is too late in the process to make a difference.

To find out more about food allergies and intolerances visit https://allergyfacts.org.au/allergy-management/food-industry/food-service