Food Allergens: Do You Need to List Them on Your Menu?

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More Americans are struggling with food allergies than ever before. Strawberries, dairy products, shellfish, tree nuts—these are just a few of the foods that can cause your customers to experience deadly anaphylactic reactions.

As a restaurant owner and operator, you want to do everything you can to protect your customers. That’s why you take exceptional care to have restaurant insurance, handle food correctly, and keep your restaurant clean. However, what are you doing to make customers aware of potential allergens? Is it really wise, or should you take a different approach instead?

Here are our thoughts on the matter from the perspective of restaurant liability. We also included helpful information about the right insurance needed for restaurants.

Food Allergens

Start with Training

The single-most important step you can take to protect your customers is to train your staff about allergies, responses to allergies, and the preventative measures to keep accidental allergies from occurring in the first place.

Any staff members who come into contact with food, including servers, chefs, sous chefs, and line cooks, should have a basic understanding of the most common allergens and how they can cause harm. Staff should also be trained in how to respond to an allergy event, including how to provide first aid and/or how to give onsite epinephrine injections (if available).

Secondly, be sure your staff understands what ingredients are used in each dish. This includes kitchen staff and waitstaff. Each should be able to answer questions about allergens quickly and easily without returning to the kitchen.

Have the Right Insurance

The Americans with Disabilities (ADA) act protects Americans with allergies. This is generally a good thing, but, for restaurants, it can complicate the matter of liability after and before an allergy event.

Restaurants that don’t make any attempt at all to cater to allergy sufferers could be construed as discriminating, especially if you refuse accommodations upon request. If a customer does experience an allergy because they weren’t told a dish contains, say, peanuts, ADA regulations may allow them to sue you for not making the information obvious.

All of this can leave restaurants in a very precarious situation. Fortunately, General Liability insurance covers events like these as long as you can demonstrate that you made an effort to protect the customer. Product liability takes this a step further, protecting your business if a customer happens to receive food contaminated by an allergen accidentally.

Provide Information on Ingredients for Each Dish

Most menus don’t contain a full list of ingredients used in each meal. If they did, the menu would be filled to the brim with blocks of text, making it difficult to read and inefficient to browse. It just doesn’t make any sense to put full ingredient lists on your menu.

What you can do is provide customers access to a full ingredient list separately, either in tandem with the menu (e.g., on the back page) or as a booklet on the table. Customers with allergies will be able to access the information they need easily without feeling overwhelmed when they read the menu.

Label the Menu for High-Risk Allergens

insurance needed for restaurants

While you shouldn’t list every ingredient on your menu, you should make an effort to note high-risk allergens (such as peanuts or shellfish). A small note on the menu (for example, “contains peanuts” or “contains gluten”) is a fantastic way to reduce the risk of the most common allergy incidents without overwhelming the eye.

Exactly which foods are the most likely to cause an allergic reaction? It depends on the person, their age, and their background, but, in general, most allergists agree that these foods are high-impact triggers:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Soy
  • Wheat/gluten
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Corn
  • Gelatin
  • MSG
  • Seeds

Although this list represents only the most common allergens, there are thousands of other foods that can trigger an anaphylactic response. All you can do to prevent incidents with rarer substances or foods is be prepared and know what to do if an event occurs.

Last, but not least, is the easiest prevention method of all: Just ask. Waitstaff who inquire about allergies upfront may do more to prevent an incident than any other strategy on this list. Asking if anyone at the table has any food allergies takes less than a minute, but it could save you thousands on a potential lawsuit.

Searching for ways to save money on your insurance? Call Tabak Insurance Agency. Whether you’re investigating insurance needed for restaurants for the first time or you just want a better deal, we can help.