Nearly 20% of U.S. adults claim they have a food allergy. Some, or maybe even most of these truly believe they have an allergy. Yet only half of them have an official medical diagnosis. While many of these adults may believe they have an allergy because weakened immunity runs in their family or they have had an adverse reaction to certain foods in the past, the lack of diagnosis actually causes some difficulty in the foodservice community and creates challenges for those with verifiable and even dangerous allergies.
Sadly, it's come to light that some adults say they have food allergies to get special treatment at restaurants or in some cases they may be trying to bond with friends. This may seem like a harmless habit, but it can lead to serious medical issues for people who truly have food allergies.
It turns out that faking an allergy can jeopardize the health of people who actually have food-related issues so the community of those with diagnosed and serious allergies is asking people to refrain from using this terminology unless it's been deemed medically necessary. Here's why:
A Single Crumb Can Cause a Reaction
In the most serious cases, when someone has a serious food allergy, they can’t eat anything that has touched the allergen — not even a small bite.
When allergens are transferred to food, cookware or cutlery, it’s known as cross-contamination. Sometimes cross-contamination occurs by accident in a busy restaurant or cafeteria. Other times, it’s the result of deliberate negligence because employees or loved ones fail to understand the severity of food allergies.
So, why does this negligence happen? Sometimes it stems from poor training or a lack of supplies needed to create a contamination-free environment. Unfortunately, the seriousness of the problem is undermined after waiters or family members witness a food-allergy faker consume their alleged allergen (either on accident or on purpose) and then mistakenly assume that allergies are not a serious medical concern, or that most people who say they have allergies are inflating the problem. Once people in foodservice position take in this belief, they don’t take steps to protect folks who actually have medical challenges with certain foods. Staff or even family members may lie about ingredients, remove croutons that were added to the salad of someone with a wheat allergy or use the same spoon to stir dairy-free drinks as they do for milk-filled beverages.
This is risky and may result in anything from an upset stomach or hives to anaphylactic shock or even death.
This is because an individual’s immune system attacks the food particles with IgE antibodies. When this happens, chemicals are released that trigger an allergic reaction. Reactions vary, which means an allergy-inducing crumb may make one person itchy and send another to the hospital. But the cause of this misunderstanding has too often begun in the assumptions which are exacerbated by those who inflate their preferences into allergies.
True Allergies Require Medical Care
Those who state that they have allergies because they have a preference to eat gluten-free or without dairy or without nuts but have never actually been tested for them can cause an overabundance of this type of backlash which threatens the health of those who suffer from genuine life-threatening and health-threatening allergies.
Of course, it’s important to talk to a doctor if allergies are suspected or if reactions to certain foods cause reactions that are concerning. Undiagnosed allergies can be serious or cause someone to receive treatment for a condition they don’t have. The symptoms of food allergies can often mimic those of other common conditions so diagnosis is key and we urge anyone who suspects they have a food allergy to ask for testing.
But in the meantime, we should all be aware that while faking a food allergy may not seem like a big deal, especially if it helps to receive the proper food in a restaurant, it may be putting others in bad or even threatening situations. So the call to be careful in specifying preference versus allergy seems like a small gift we can give to those who are at most risk and a reminder that we should go get tested if we think we may, in fact, be among them.
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