Dining outside of the home can be difficult for persons with food allergies who must rely on restaurant staff to properly prepare allergen-free meals. The purpose of this study was to understand and identify factors associated with food allergy knowledge and attitudes among restaurant managers, food workers, and servers. This study was conducted by the Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net), a collaborative forum of federal, state, and local environmental health specialists working to understand the environmental factors associated with food safety issues. EHS-Net personnel collected data from 278 randomly selected restaurants through interviews with restaurant managers, food workers, and servers. Results indicated that managers, food workers, and servers were generally knowledgeable and had positive attitudes about accommodating customers' food allergies. However, we identified important gaps, such as more than 10% of managers and staff believed that a person with a food allergy can safely consume a small amount of that allergen. Managers and staff also had lower confidence in their restaurant's ability to properly respond to a food allergy emergency. The knowledge and attitudes of all groups were higher at restaurants that had a specific person to answer food allergy questions and requests or a plan for answering questions from food allergic customers. However, food allergy training was not associated with knowledge in any of the groups but was associated with manager and server attitudes. Based on these findings, we encourage restaurants to be proactive by training staff about food allergies and creating plans and procedures to reduce the risk of a customer having a food allergic reaction.
Keywords: Food allergies; Food allergy attitudes; Food allergy knowledge; Food safety; Restaurants.