With more than 250 food allergens identified, and 15 million Americans diagnosed with food allergies, it’s no small task ensuring your restaurant’s food safety protocols are up to par, a must if the hope is to continue serving this large market.

To help those dealing with food allergies feel confident about their safety while dining in your restaurant, here are the key takeaways from an educational session at the 2015 National Restaurant Association Hotel-Motel show during which a panel of food safety experts shared their food allergen acumen :

  • Train your staff how to handle food allergens. “Incorporate your employees into your process. They start buying into it and feel more confident in what they’re doing,” says William Weichelt, ServSafe director.
  • A certified manager should be present during every shift and directly involved in all instances in which food allergies are a known concern. He or she acts as a knowledge center for customers as well as a resource for employees.
  • Never guess. Speaking of certified managers, if employees are asked a food allergy question that they can’t answer, ensure that they reach out to a manager who can.  If your restaurant cannot confidently satisfy a guest’s request, expressly communicate this. This outcome, although not ideal, is much safer for all involved rather than the risky alternative.
  • Make ingredient lists available to guests. They know their allergy better than you do, and thus will likely know the names of ingredients or sub-ingredients that may be red flags for them.
  • Sub-out widely used allergens. If possible, isolate ingredients or recipes that could trigger a common allergy. For example, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro now uses wheat-free soy in lieu of regular soy in all of its marinades.
  • Create a back-of-house system for allergen-specific equipment. Consider using color-coded, allergen-specific plateware, prepware and other equipment.
  • Invest in allergy-specific technology. Natalie Krusemeier, director of training for the 7-unit, Chicago-based Colonial Café, says the company’s POS system has an allergen key. When pressed by a front-of-house staffer, the back of the house knows of the allergy, and a manager then becomes involved.

For additional information regarding food allergens, reference FARE, Food Allergy and Research and Education group, and CHART, the Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers.

This article originally appeared on www.restaurant.org and can be found here.