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"Know Before You Serve" and "Ask Before You Eat"

Food Allergy Awareness Education for Food Service Operations and the General Public

Food allergies are a common, serious-and sometimes fatal--problem. Nearly 11 million Americans have food allergies or an estimated 6 to 8% of young children and 4% of the general population. Close to 327,000 New Jerseyans have food allergies, of which 100,000 are children. The only proven way to prevent allergic reactions caused by trigger foods is to avoid those foods. For the person with a food allergy, or those (e.g., teacher, parent, coach, youth group leader) caring for them, that means reading ingredient labels on food packages, knowing how foods are prepared and asking questions when eating out. It also means that food service employees need to be fully informed about menu ingredients, preparation procedures, and storage procedures.

Education is the key to raising awareness about food allergies, and in particular, how to avoid triggering an allergic reaction in someone with a food allergy. In New Jersey, Public Law 2005, c.026 (A303 ACS 2R) set the stage for this education by mandating the development of a fact sheet and public information campaign to help restaurateurs and state residents prevent triggering food allergy reactions. Rutgers University (Rutgers Cooperative Extension, Nutritional Sciences Department, Food Policy Institute), in collaboration with the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services and NJ Restaurant Association, put the mandate of the law into action. The goals of this project were to:

  • Identify barriers to receiving and accepting desired food allergy reaction prevention behavioral changes of restaurateurs.
  • Describe how to best capture restaurateurs interest in relation to food allergy reaction prevention.
  • Identify how restaurateurs would prefer these messages be delivered, including format and tone .
  • Design a fact sheet for restaurants on food allergy awareness and prevention using the information gained from the focus group.
  • Design a public relations campaign to increase the knowledge of, improve attitudes toward, and improve behaviors related to food allergy reaction prevention.

Printable Project Materials


To promote awareness and adoption of these materials, this project was presented at the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology/International Society of Exposure Analysis Conference and the American Dietetic Association's Food and Nutrition Conference and Exposition, where it received an excellence award. Findings also were published:

  • Byrd-Bredbenner, C. and Maurer, J. (2007) Food Allergies: Safe Food Handling to Prevent Triggering an Allergic Reaction. Journal of Extension, 45(6):Article Number 6TOT6.
  • Maurer, J., Byrd-Bredbenner, C., and Grasso, D. (2007) "Know Before You Serve" - A Fact Sheet To Help Food Service Personnel Prevent Triggering Allergic Reactions In Customers With Food Allergies. Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 48:274-283.
  • Maurer, J., Byrd-Bredbenner, C., and Grasso, D. (2007) "Ask Before You Eat" - Development of A Social Marketing Campaign On Food Allergies. Social Marketing Quarterly, 13(20):48-70.

Key Project Team Members

  • Carol Byrd-Bredbenner, Ph.D., RD
  • Jackie Maurer Abbot, Ph.D., RD
  • Darlene Grasso Kinney, MA, RD
  • Elaine Rossi
  • William Hallman, Ph.D.
  • Brian Schilling, MS