The Importance of Understanding Food Allergies to a Food Service Manager

May is Food Allergy Awareness Month. Many of us know someone who has an allergy to certain foods or may be allergic ourselves. Food allergies have become more prevalent in recent years, and have gained much more attention from the public. Food Allergy Canada is focusing on several key messages for Food Allergy Awareness Month. This campaign is aimed at educating the public about food allergies but also to highlight key behaviors that can reduce the risk of a food allergy incident, specifically:

  • Celebrate safely by offering non-food treats.
  • Keep it clean. Don’t use plain water or hand sanitizer to remove allergens. Use liquid hand soap and water.
  • Don’t double dip – don’t use the same utensils when making food that may contain an allergen
  • No picking – don’t remove an allergen from food and serve it to someone with that food allergy. Make a new meal for the person with the food allergy.

Early in my career, I learned a tough lesson about food allergies the hard way. I was in Chef School and worked part-time as a cook in a downtown Toronto hotel. One afternoon after school I went to work and my role that day was carving a turkey on a buffet in our main restaurant. A customer asked me if there were nuts in the stuffing. Assuming this was the normal stuffing I was used to, I told the customer there were no nuts. He asked for some stuffing. In a few minutes, I saw a panic around his table. He was having a severe allergic reaction. Thankfully, his wife had an EpiPen and administered it to him, otherwise, the outcome would have been a lot worse. While this was a very frightening and potentially disastrous situation, it was an important learning experience for me and has made me very conscious of food allergies in my career and personal life. When I was in school there was little education about food allergies, they were not something commonly discussed. Through this experience I learned the golden rule about food allergies: if you don’t know what is in a food item, say you don’t know!

We cover Food allergy and intolerance in our Food Service and Nutrition Management courses, specifically in Course 1: Food Service Systems Management as well as in Course 5: Clinical Nutrition. For more information about the Food Service and Nutrition Management Program, please check out our website, or contact us!

As food service professionals, it is important that we understand how serious food allergies can be, and how negative incidents can be avoided. Pivotal to this is having a solid Food Allergy Awareness Program. There are several key components to an effective program:

  1. A clear policy on food allergy practices
  2. Training program for employees
  3. Communications programs for customers and
  4. A production system, including standardized recipes that supports food allergy awareness.

Food Allergy Canada and other organizations have developed detailed training and education programs to help a manager develop a program for their department.

As a food and nutrition manager, it is important that food allergies are taken seriously, and that all employees are trained on how to treat people with food allergies. A clear communication system must be in place, usually part of the regular diet list or diet ticket system, to communicate food allergies and what items must be avoided. The key message in food allergy awareness is: take anyone that tells you they have a food allergy seriously.

How do you successfully manage Food Allergies as part of your role? Connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, or send us an email with your suggestions!



Michael May is a graduate of the Food and Nutrition Management program at George Brown College and has recently completed his MBA from Athabasca University. Michael is the Director of Operations for Nutra Services, the largest independent food service contractor to the long term care industry in Canada and part of the brown’s Group of Companies. With over two decades of progressive management experience in both Canada and the Middle East, Michael has gained a strong understanding of both the long term care sector and how to relate current business management practices to the industry.


Michael is a certified Long Term Care Administrator, a LEAN Green Belt and is a Certified Change Manager through PROSCI.

He has strong ties to the long term care and food service industry, he has been a board member of the Canadian Society of Nutrition Management (CSNM), sits on the advisory committees for the food and nutrition management programs at both HealthCareCAN and George Brown College. Michael has been involved in CHA Learning’s Food Service and Nutrition Management Program as an Educational consultant for 11 years and most recently has contributed to the Business Management and Marketing course for the updated program. He has also taught in both the Food and Nutrition Management and Food Service Worker programs at Centennial College.