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Last updated: 19.02.20

What to Do if Someone has a Food-based Allergic Reaction

All catering and hospitality businesses must follow the allergen info rules set out in EU Food

Know the symptoms

An allergic reaction to a food allergen, whether that’s one of the 14 most common allergens or otherwise, typically results in anaphylaxis and can go into anaphylactic shock. Symptoms of this can be:

  • Feeling lightheaded or faint
  • Difficulty breathing, such as shallow breaths
  • Wheezing
  • Increased heartrate
  • Clammy palms or skin
  • Hives
  • Nausea, stomach pain or vomiting
  • Confusion and anxiety
  • Loss of consciousness

Being able to recognise the symptoms of anaphylaxis can help you respond quickly and avoid symptoms from escalating by providing assistance and contacting the emergency services,

Have an emergency plan in place

Ensure staff know what to do in the event that a customer goes into anaphylactic shock and are trained to handle the situation effectively and efficiently.

Step 1

Adrenaline auto-injectors, such as EpiPens and Jext, are a useful measure to have just in case, but customers with food allergies may also carry around a personal one, especially if they have moderate to severe allergies. You should only attempt to use this if you know how to use it correctly or can assist someone who does.

Step 2

As mentioned previously, you should contact emergency services immediately if you know someone has had a reaction to a food allergen and gone into anaphylactic shock. Anaphylaxis is listed as a medical emergency and can escalate if not treated quickly, resulting in serious complications.

Step 3

Following this, you should remove any triggers that you are able to without making the situation worse, lie the person down flat (unless unconscious, pregnant or have breathing difficulties), and give a follow-up injection 5 to 15 minutes after the first if the symptoms do not improve and you have a second auto-injector.

If the person is unconscious, they should be placed in the recovery position to keep their airway open and clear. Pregnant women should be laid on their left side to avoid putting excess pressure on the large vein which leads to the heart, and those with breathing difficulties should be kept upright.

Step 4

If the person suffering from anaphylaxis stops breathing or their heart stops then CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) should be performed immediately by someone who is first aid trained. This should continue until the emergency services arrive to ensure the person is kept in a stable condition.

Protecting consumers at risk

As a business, you should provide consumers with as much information about potential allergens as possible to avoid incidents like customers going into anaphylactic shock or experiencing even mild symptoms of a food allergy. Listing allergens on any food packaging or menus is essential to letting consumers know what dishes contain allergens and gives them the best chance at avoiding triggers. Keeping your kitchen in good working order with adequate control measure to identify and separate potential allergenic ingredients as well as preventative measure for cross-contamination is imperative.

Virtual College have a number of food hygiene and safety courses to help properly train your staff, including a food allergy awareness course which can deliver training whenever you need it. Our online food allergy course contains all the relevant information your staff will need to keep consumers safe, combined with best practice methods to ensure they know where essential allergen information on your products should be kept, protecting both your consumers and your business.

We also have great resources online to help you. Check out our handy infographic which offers advice and guidance on food allergen labels.