Food Allergies in the Workplace

22 March 2019

Thinking of offering healthy snacks in the office? Maybe it's someone birthday or you want to plan a workplace celebration. While more and more offices are providing snacks, it's important to consider if your employees have any food allergies.

While it seems like everyone has preferred foods, for some, it's not an arbitrary decision. For those who live with serious food allergies, labels like gluten-free and nut-free are essential to their day-to-day food choices. With approximately 15 million American diagnosed with a food allergy, according to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), there's a good chance that someone in your office has a food allergy.

Important Steps to Follow

Here are some steps to help make your workplace safe for your employees with dietary restrictions and food allergies in the office.

  1. Ask: The first step to ensuring a safe office environment that accommodates the dietary needs of your employees is to ask questions. Find out about your employees food allergies or other dietary restrictions. Then, when it's time to reorder healthy snacks in the office or plan a team dinner or potluck, check with those employees for their suggestions and how you can accommodate them.
  2. Offer a Variety of Food: Keep in mind food allergies and preferences. Start with the Big 8 — the eight most common food allergens: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy, many of which show up in many common snacks. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, can also be a concern, especially for those who have celiac disease. Don't forget to advise caterers of any food allergies or restrictions.
  3. Label It: If you're having a company retreat, potluck or catered lunch, or if someone brings in some leftover baked goods, be sure to label the food with a list of ingredients. This will make it easier for employees to identify which foods are safe for them to eat.
  4. Create a Safe Office Environment: Keep food in designated eating areas to avoid stray crumbs and cross-contamination to occur and be sure to clean the area thoroughly. In shared kitchens, keep a separate set of utensils, dishes and cups for employees who have severe food allergies.

Recognizing an Allergic Reaction

If your coworker eats something that they're allergic to, their immune system will start to kick into overdrive. The most common symptoms are tingling or itching in the mouth, hives or swelling, wheezing or nasal congestion, and digestive problems like nausea and vomiting. They may also experience some less obvious symptoms like dizziness and abdominal pain.

For the mild reactions, over-the-counter antihistamines, topical hydrocortisone creams and a cold compress can help relieve their symptoms

Some may experience a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. If a coworker has difficulty breathing or a rapid and faint pulse, feels constriction of the airway or feels lightheaded, call 911 and seek medical care immediately. Check to see if they have an epinephrine auto-injector, such as an EpiPen, and help them administer it if needed.

Offering healthy snacks in the office and celebrating with your employees can be an important part of a company's culture and offering food options that are inclusive of all employees' food allergies and dietary restrictions sends the right message. It tells employees that their health and wellness is important to you.