The Most Surprising Places Food Allergens Are Found

Did you know that nearly 15 million Americans – including one in every 10 children – are affected by some form of food allergies?

And even though 58 percent of Americans dine out at least once a week, less than half of restaurants are properly training their employees how to serve diners with food allergies.

Restaurant owners and managers who take the steps to ensure diners safely enjoy meals can benefit from increased revenue, higher customer satisfaction and a better restaurant experience. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, eight specific food allergens account for 90 percent of allergic reactions. These allergens often hide in plain sight and can be found in dishes some employees or customers wouldn’t expect:

Hot dogs, salad dressing and shellfish

Ice cream, root beer and candy

Spaghetti sauce, chili and graham cracker crust used for pies and cakes

Tree Nuts
Barbecue sauce, flavored coffee (e.g., hazelnut) and frozen desserts

Potato chips, rice cakes and beer-battered foods

Vodka, chicken nuggets, reduced-fat peanut butter and hot chocolate

Worcestershire sauce, meatloaf and Caesar salad dressing

Fish stock, sea food flavoring and bouillabaisse

Feel overwhelmed by this list? You shouldn’t. In fact, adjusting your restaurant practices to cater to diners with food allergies doesn’t have to be difficult or costly. Following are several tips for both front- and back-of- house staff to keep diners safe.

Front-of-house staff

  • Keep track of menu ingredients. Given the list of surprising food items where allergens are found, diners with food restrictions should have the option to quickly identify dishes that contain common allergens on the menu, ensuring a safe and smooth dining experience. Consider including small icons next to each menu item that indicate which allergens might be included in the dish.


  • Implement a training program. Develop a training program for front-of-house staff that teaches them how to handle food allergies and dietary restrictions. For best results, create a tip sheet that staff can quickly reference.

Back-of-house staff

  • Use separate equipment. Cross-contamination is the leading cause of allergic reaction among diners. Even trace amounts of a food allergen can cause problems for diners. Designate kitchen equipment that can be used to prepare foods that don’t contain allergens.


  • Label containers with common allergens. All food should be handled with care, but the eight common food allergens should be treated with extra diligence. Clearly label these foods and tightly seal containers.

To learn more about common food allergens and best practices to keep diners safe, download GrubHub’s latest whitepaper, “The Restaurateur’s Food Allergies & Dietary Restrictions.”

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