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Creating an allergy-safe dining program that satiates residents and saves you money

It’s always about the food.

Ask someone how their Caribbean cruise went, and they’ll tell you the buffet was fantastic. Inquire about their daughter’s wedding, and they’ll complain about the caterer. Talk to your mom about the dining program at her assisted-living facility and, well, she’s probably already shared her thoughts on that.

It’s always about the food, and it’s no different in your facility. But it’s no longer enough to manage quality or quantities: you also need to factor in allergies and create an allergy-safe dining program.

An estimated 10% of adults in the U.S. have a known food allergy, and in skilled nursing facilities, the number jumps to 25%. As we age, our immune system weakens, opening the door to late-onset food allergies, so these percentages are likely to grow.

Even the list of major allergies is expanding. In 2004, when the Food Allergen Label and Consumer Protection Act was signed, “The Big 8” consisted of milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans. In 2021, the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research (FASTER) Act was signed, adding sesame as number nine.

Naturally, you can’t expect to serve thousands of meals a week and keep all of these allergens out of the dining room. But you can put plans in place to protect the residents who are allergic.

“It’s nice to meet you. Would you like a peanut?”

An allergy-safe dining program begins when a new resident is admitted. Any known food allergies should be identified and isolated as a category in your electronic health records system. You should also detail the item as an ingredient, so if a dish contains, for example, peanut oil, it gets flagged as an allergen.

You’ll also want to:

  • Include a physician’s order for necessary remedies to allergic reactions, such as keeping an epinephrine injector on site.
  • Consider dining locations and seating arrangements as part of risk prevention—a “no fish” table, for example.
  • Develop a care plan for each affected resident, including a copy of their potential symptoms and recommended treatment.

As part of an overall allergy-prevention plan, skilled nursing and post-acute care facilities are writing new policies to limit accidental allergen exposure during meal prep and meal service. These new procedures include managing ingredient details, designating proper prep and storage of cooking utensils, labeling foods which include the nine common allergens, and detailing menu items to help residents make informed decisions.

Staff training plays an important role, as well. Your team needs the knowledge and skills to respond to and care for any resident having an allergic reaction. It’s also important to include residents in council meetings—or talk to them one-on-one—to discuss food allergies and cross-contamination risks. Doing so may curb food sharing and help residents understand seating arrangements.

This is as easy as pie, provided no one is allergic to pie.

There’s a simple solution to this growing problem, and it can be built right into your programming. MatrixCare MealTracker’s ability to support detailed, flexible, resident-profile management can take on allergies, too. It lets you create menu items and assign food groups that point out allergens, and it can even help with picky residents. So if Charlie doesn’t like Brussels sprouts or bean dip, you can keep them off his plate.

But MealTracker benefits more than the people you serve. It also allows you to:

  • Manage food costs and menu development—using automation to increase productivity, eliminate overproduction, and streamline menu planning.
  • Boost revenue under PDPM—easily creating reports and maintaining compliance.
  • Track clinical nutrition needs and avoid malnutrition—analyzing menus, recipes, and even weight management to help maintain proper nutrition.
  • Improve satisfaction and quality of care—managing resident needs and preferences quickly and easily.

Allergens are serious business, and with MealTracker, you’re saving lives, you’re saving money, and you’re satisfying even the most finicky residents. Creating an allergy-safe dining program improves the quality of life for everyone who sits down to dinner, and you can be sure that’s what they’ll be talking about.

Have questions? Connect with us to learn more.

Resources:

Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), www.foodallergy.org

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/food-allergies

Risk Assessment in elderly for sensitization for food and respiratory allergens,

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6909462_Risk_assessment_in_elderly_for_sensitization_to_food_and_respiratory_allergens

 


Amy Wootton
Amy Wootton

Amy Wootton, RDN, is a registered dietitian licensed in the state of Florida with over 18 years of experience in clinical nutrition leadership for senior communities as well as acute care, food service management, nutrition informatics, and wellness education. Amy is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, was appointed Vice Chair on the Interoperability and Standards Committee, and is the leader of the Academy’s Nutition Care Process Workgroup. Amy most recently accepted a Leadership Award from the Florida Academy of Dietetics. She has achieved years of diversified experience in all spectrums and disease improvement and prevention throughout each lifespan. Amy is a dedicated leader and is passionate about the success of nutrition interventions as an electronic solution to healthcare crises’.


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