Allergies and restaurants. Prof. Claudio Ortolani has the floor.

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The recent study of the University of Düsseldorf demonstrates the paucity of information about food allergies in restaurants, where in only 28 percent of cases do menus carry the required information about the presence of allergens in individual dishes. (1) The situation is discouraging, but hope should not be lost. Rather, act with determination and synergy. Professor Claudio Ortolani – a protagonist of international scientific research in this field and a dear friend – traces the way forward. (Dario Dongo)

The survey conducted in Düsseldorf indicates that most restaurant workers lack adequate training on food allergy. Allergy sufferers consequently, consuming a meal in public establishments may run the risk of severe reactions.
The situation is not fundamentally different in the US, where similar investigations have been done. (2) We wonder if the problem is unsolvable.

Personally, I am optimistic about the real possibility of containing and eventually completely solving the problem. I state this because Europe-and Italy, too, for the past year-has very good legislation to safeguard food allergy sufferers (Legislative Decree 231/17). (3) Which requires not only public establishments but anyone selling or serving food, in any context, to inform consumers about the presence of allergenic ingredients. And the information must come written, for each food sold or served, in a special register that must be available to users and verifiable by the control authority.

The penalties for violators are very steep and certainly difficult for merchants to bear, especially if repeated. General legislation after all requires adequate training by food service operators on every aspect concerning food safety. (4) The legislation is in full force and, if properly enforced, is in itself sufficient to safeguard allergy sufferers from the risk of unknowingly ingesting allergens in food service.

It is therefore essential to inform patients with food allergies about the existence of this law, which entails their right-when eating meals away from home-to always receive written information about the allergens in the various foods available for sale or listed on the menu. And the opportunity to report non-compliance to the supervisory authority. (5)
This information should be given by the treating physician or allergy specialist to the individual allergic person at risk, but also by patient and consumer associations to their members. And finally disseminated by the generalist media, as well as those disseminating about news in the field of nutrition and allergology.

In turn, the authorities must undertake a number of direct interventions, such as systematic checks of establishments and stores on enforcement, as well as analyses on ‘Food Allergy’ training of restaurant operators. Guidelines for sound training on the topic of ‘Food allergy for food service workers’ should then be developed.

This can only be achieved through joint action between the scientific world (universities, research centers, etc.), patient associations such as Food Allergy Italia, and consumer associations such as AltroConsumo. And last but not least, merchant associations such as FiPE, whose contribution is essential to the success of any project in this field. Only close collaboration of all the components involved will make it possible to plan shared and effective initiatives.

Thus,it is crucial and urgent to ensure the best enforcement of the existing regulations in order to achieve a substantial reduction in the risks of food allergy anaphylaxis in mass catering.’

Prof. Claudio Ortolani
Director Lombardo Allergological Institute
Cesano Boscone (Milan)

Editorial Notes

(1) Adrian Loerbroks, Susanne Julia Tolksdorf, Martin Wagenmann, Helen Smith (2019). ‘Food allergy knowledge, attitudes and their determinants among restaurant staff: A cross- sectional study‘. PLoS ONE 14(4): e0214625. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0214625

(2) Ahuja R, Sicherer SH (2007). ‘Food-allergy management from the perspective of restaurant and food establish- ment personnel‘. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2007; 98: 344-348. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1081-1206 (10)60880-0 PMID: 17458430

In the US, nods to the (few) ‘allergy-friendly‘ restaurants are offered by providential blogs such as ‘
Allergy-Eats
‘ and ‘the Allergy-free life‘ (NYC). But is it possible to entrust patients’ lives to sporadic private initiatives? And how can the health administration abdicate its first task, which is precisely to protect the health of citizens?

(3) See reg. EU 1169/11, d.lgs. 231/17. For further study we refer to thefree ebook ‘1169 penalties. EU Reg. 1169/11, food news, controls and penalties’,

(4) Regarding food safety and the responsibilities incumbent on food operators, distributors and communities (public establishments, canteens, caterers) please refer to the previous articles https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/salute/sicurezza-alimentare-abc-responsabilità-operatori, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/etichette/le-responsabilità-della-gdo, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/idee/igiene-nei-ristoranti-l-abc

(5) Food Allergy Italia and GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade) will in turn take it upon themselves to report to the authorities all reports received from ConsumAtors in Italy through the widespread #DetectiveFood survey. We renew our invitation to all readers to provide us with as many reports as possible, in the manner indicated at https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/consum-attori/allergeni-indagine-diffusa-con-il-progetto-detectivefood

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.