A study on allergen knowledge and its perceived importance in food safety
Background: Studies have shown that one out of every thirteen Canadians suffers from a significant food allergy, and that 1.2 million Canadians may be affected by food allergies in their lifetime. As food allergies are common, many would assume that allergen safety would be a significant component of public health promotion and food education. This study, on food allergen knowledge, is one step towards addressing the deficit that exists with regards to understanding food allergens in public health. Method: The study was conducted by surveying Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) nationwide using an online questionnaire. It was distributed via email with the aid of the Environmental Health faculty at British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). The survey was also posted to the BCIT Environmental Health and Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors (CIPHI) groups on the online social networking service Facebook. The results helped determine whether opinions, behaviors, and knowledge level regarding food allergens and food allergen safety depended on having a food allergy themselves. Results: The data extracted from the survey was analyzed using the statistical software NCSS. The results of the Allergen Knowledge portion (t-test) concluded that there is no association between the score of the Allergen Knowledge test, and whether or not the participants have a food allergy, inferred by its p-value of 0.268010. The results of a chi-square test indicated that there is a borderline association between how often EHOs educate restaurant operators on allergen safety, and whether or not they have a food allergy (p = 0.049) Conclusion: The t-test performed concluded that the participant’s knowledge regarding food allergens was not dependent on the presence or absence of a food allergy. The second statistical analysis (chi-square test) supported an association between how often EHOs educated restaurant operators on allergen safety, and whether or not they have a food allergy. Health Authorities can use these results to provide a basis for establishing a food allergen training program for EHOs in the future, thereby raising awareness and helping to better manage the presence of food allergens in public health.