A concerning number of restaurant servers have very limited knowledge about food allergens which potentially places their customers at risk, a German study has found.

An international team of researchers tested 295 restaurant staff members in selected districts of Düsseldorf in Germany to find out how much they know about food allergies. They reported that fewer than half of the participants received a perfect score on a general food allergy knowledge test.

They published their findings in the journal PLOS One on Wednesday, April 24.

What Restaurant Servers Know About Food Allergy

"We looked at knowledge and attitudes, and the key finding would be that the knowledge levels are not as good as we would expect in restaurant staff, because these are people that are handling food in a daily basis," explained Adrian Loerbroks, one of the authors of the study.

During face-to-face interviews conducted between August and October 2017, the researchers found that 46 percent of the restaurant servers received food allergy training. About 89 percent, however, expressed confidence with their knowledge of food allergens.

Researchers yet found that only 41 percent of participants correctly answered true-or-false statements about food allergens. Meanwhile, 30 percent can name three common food allergens such as eggs, milk, and fish.

Moreover, while the interviewed restaurant staff know that part of their duty is to help meet the customers' demands, some held negative attitudes about serving customers who have food allergies. About 42 percent of the participants do not believe the accuracy of the customers' self-reports of food allergies.

The researchers also noted that female servers are more likely to believe the food allergies that the customer has declared. Loerbroks suggested that female servers are probably more adept at identifying which is a real food allergy and which is a lifestyle choice.

'Concerning' Findings

Loerbroks said that their findings are "quite concerning" given that customers trust the restaurants to deliver allergy-friendly meals. He cited that the problem is also not isolated in Düsseldorf or in Germany.

Previous studies also tested and found that only a small number of restaurant staff members are equipped with adequate knowledge about food allergy in the United States and Turkey.

"All these studies highlight that this a problem," Loerbroks stated. "It is not a rare thing that a few staff members struggle with."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 4 to 6 percent of children in the United States have food allergies.

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