Navigating Food Allergies in the Workplace

food allergies in the office

At Sharebite, we believe that everyone deserves a delightful dining experience, regardless of dietary restrictions. As seasoned food enthusiasts and advocates for inclusivity, we’re committed to ensuring that food allergies don’t hinder your culinary experiences while at work. Join us as we explore the world of food allergies, uncovering both the familiar and the lesser-known allergens.

Impact on Employee Health

Food allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to specific foods, triggering allergic reactions. These reactions can vary from mild symptoms like hives and skin irritation to severe manifestations such as anaphylaxis—a life-threatening whole-body response that impairs breathing and affects blood pressure and heart rate. Anaphylaxis requires immediate treatment with an EpiPen (epinephrine/adrenaline). While any food can cause adverse reactions, eight major allergens—milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish—account for most serious food allergy cases. Additionally, sesame allergy is emerging as a concern due to severe reactions, including fatal anaphylaxis.

Common Food Allergies: The “Big Nine”

1. Milk

Symptoms: Hives, digestive issues, anaphylaxis.

Hidden Sources: Baked goods, sauces, processed foods.

Sharebite Tip: Opt for dairy-free alternatives like almond, soy, or oat milk.

2. Eggs

Symptoms: Skin reactions, respiratory distress.

Hidden Sources: Baked goods, mayonnaise, pasta.

Sharebite Tip: Look for vegan alternatives

3. Fish

Symptoms: Swelling, difficulty breathing, nausea.

Hidden Sources: Caesar dressing, Worcestershire sauce.

Sharebite Tip: Explore seafood-free cuisines like Mediterranean or Indian.

4. Shellfish (Crustaceans)

Symptoms: Vomiting, difficulty breathing, nausea.

Hidden Sources: Ceviche, scampi, bloody marys.

Sharebite Tip: Look for places that do not serve crab, lobster or shrimp.

5. Tree Nuts

Symptoms: Hives, throat tightness, nausea.

Hidden Sources: Cereals, chocolate candies, flavored coffees, bbq sauces.

Sharebite Tip: Check labels diligently and inform restaurants about your allergy.

6. Peanuts

Symptoms: Itching, throat tightness, anaphylaxis.

Hidden Sources: Nut oils, granola bars, Asian dishes.

Sharebite Tip: Check labels diligently and inform restaurants about your allergy.

7. Wheat (Gluten)

Symptoms: Abdominal pain, skin rash, fatigue.

Hidden Sources: Soy sauce, beer, pasta, gravy, processed meats.

Sharebite Tip: Savor gluten-free options like quinoa or rice-based dishes.

8. Soy

Symptoms: Digestive discomfort, skin redness.

Hidden Sources: Tofu, soy sauce, vegetable oil.

Sharebite Tip: Seek out soy-free alternatives like seitan and coconut aminos.

9. Sesame Seeds

Symptoms: Swelling, difficulty swallowing.

Hidden Sources: Bread, hummus, salad dressings.

Sharebite Tip: Communicate your allergy to chefs when dining out.

Prevalence in the United States 

Approximately 33 million people in the U.S. have food allergies. Among adults aged 18 and older, more than 26 million individuals—about 11%—are affected. In children, nearly 8% (approximately 5.6 million) have food allergies, which translates to about two children in every classroom. The most common food allergies in children include peanut, milk, shellfish, and tree nuts. For adults, shellfish, milk, peanut, and tree nut allergies are prevalent. Sesame allergy is also gaining attention as a significant allergen. Over the past two decades, food allergies have increased, particularly among children, with a rise of 1% to 2% per decade. Vigilance, early recognition, and management are crucial to prevent serious health consequences associated with food allergies.

Less Common Food Allergies: Hidden Culprits

1. Red Meat (Linked to Tick Bites)

Symptoms: Delayed allergic reactions, hives.

Sharebite Tip: Explore plant-based proteins like lentils or tempeh.

2. Marshmallows (Gelatin)

Symptoms: Skin rash, digestive issues.

Sharebite Tip: Look for gelatin-free marshmallows or vegan alternatives.

3. Corn

Symptoms: Abdominal pain, bloating.

Sharebite Tip: Opt for corn-free tortillas or explore ancient grains.

4. Mango

Symptoms: Itchy mouth, skin irritation.

Sharebite Tip: Enjoy other tropical fruits like papaya or give peaches a chance.

5. Dried Fruit

Symptoms: Swelling, throat tightness.

Sharebite Tip: Choose fresh fruit options to avoid hidden sulfites.

6. Avocado

Symptoms: Itchy mouth, gastrointestinal distress.

Sharebite Tip: Opt for avocado-free options like pesto, nut butters, or hummus.

Hidden Triggers and Cross-Reactivity

Navigating food allergies isn’t just about avoiding obvious culprits. Cross-reactivity can catch you off guard. For instance:

Prevention and Management Tips

It is important to be vigilant when it comes to allergies as reactions can very from minimal discomfort to life threatening scenarios. Here is the best ways to mitigate any potential issues:

Sharebite’s Allergen Approach 

Our curated restaurant partners prioritize food safety, offering allergy-friendly options for every palate. When onboarding we take special care to understand dietary allergies and needs, so that employees can have a variety of options that allow them to enjoy their meals without any negative consequences. 

At Sharebite, we believe that meals should be both feel-good and do-good. That’s why we’re passionate about educating the complexities of dietary restrictions and allergies and why we created the guide on “Being Mindful of Dietary Restrictions When Feeding Your Workforce”.

If you want to learn more about how Sharebite can help you create a successful meal allowance benefits program, you can interact with our Live Chat or submit your company’s details to our getting started page