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it thought were lemon poppy-seed muffins. “It was only when one of our guests who’s allergic to almonds ate one and started having a reaction that anyone looked at the package to see that although they were billed as lemon poppy-seed, they contained almonds,” Wallenius said. “Luckily, his reaction was mild, but things like that can kill someone and should never be taken lightly.”


SORTING OUT THE SERIOUS CASES It’s become very common for planners to collect information about dietary restrictions during the registration process, but Rasmussen suggests that the process could be finessed. “It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, if a conference organizer has been very diligent and vocal about soliciting comments about dietary requests,” he said. “It’s a good thing,” he added, but given the ease of communicating electronically, sometimes people check boxes indiscriminately, and without much thought. For example, Rasmussen has been given


lists of allergies that include “cats,” he said. “I’m certainly not going to be serving any cats.” Instead of just asking a blanket question about


dietary restrictions, Carol Galle, CMP, founder of Detroit-based Special D Events Inc., asks attendees whether their requests are “a preference, allergy, or life-threatening allergy.” “We always label all food items, but we are also careful to let the chef and banquet staff know when an allergy is life-threat- ening,” Galle said. “We do our best to accommodate everyone by making broad menu selections — which means fewer plated meals and more buffets.” The biggest headache Wallenius has are last-


Dylah Hughes Wallenius ‘Banquet meals are not restaurant meals.”


minute requests by people who don’t have dietary restrictions, just preferences. “Banquet meals are not restaurant meals, and when attendees try to order at the table it slows down the process for the entire group,” she said. It’s frustrating “when people who don’t have special requirements see someone else’s special meal and decide they’d rather have the same.”


What the Science Says Discussions about whether people are unnecessarily complicating things by eliminating ingredients, includ- ing gluten, are simmering — not just on meeting-planner discussion forums, but in the medical community. Here are few basic facts.


› More than 160 different foods have been linked to adverse reac- tions, but the top eight are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The public health agency Health Canada lists the major allergens slightly differently: eggs; milk; mustard; peanuts; seafood, including fish, crustaceans, and shellfish; sesame; soy; tree nuts; sulfites; and wheat and other cereal grains containing gluten.


› About 1 percent of people in the United States have celiac disease, which has been linked to arthritis, cancer, diabetes, and kidney and liver disease. It is on the rise worldwide, according to Peter H.R. Green, M.D., director of Columbia University’s Celiac Center. In the United States, most people who have celiac are un- aware of it — although, because of increased awareness of the condition, it’s estimated that the number of undiagnosed cases has dropped since 2010 from 95 percent of the population to 83 percent, said Beckee Moreland, director of gluten-free industry initiatives at the National Founda- tion for Celiac Awareness (NFCA).


› Some gastroenterologists say that for every patient with celiac disease, they see six to eight who have the same symptoms, but without the antibodies or intestinal damage that confirm celiac disease. Although medical experts now largely agree that there is a condition related to gluten intolerance that is sepa- rate from celiac disease, Kenneth Chang reported on The New York Times health blog, much is unknown about how many people may be affected or how to reliably diagnose it.


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