For those that suffer from food allergies, allergic reactions can range from mild digestive irritation, to life threatening situations. Approximately ten people in the UK each year die as a result of consuming food that triggers an allergic reaction. As a result, caterers must do everything they can to ensure that allergens do not come into contact with people who are allergic to them. In this article, we’re going to look at the legislation in place that caterers and other food industry workers must adhere to, some of the ways in which food containing allergens can be safely handled and the primary allergens that must legally be identified.
The most important piece of legislation currently in force when it comes to allergens in food is the Food Information for Consumers Regulation 2014. This is an EU ruling designed to help make sure that people who suffer from allergies can quickly, easily and reliably determine which foods are safe or not safe for them to eat. This is a critically important piece of law that was put in place to reduce serious illnesses and deaths that result from consuming allergens - it is a critical health matter. Failure to adhere to this legislation can in some case result in criminal prosecution, so it is very important that all relevant employees within the catering sector understand it.
The primary requirement for the Food Information for Consumers Regulation 2014 is that items containing any of the 14 primary allergens must be clearly labelled on pre-packaged food so that consumers know what they are purchasing. We will cover these 14 allergens in the final section of this article. There are also some specifics around the way products are labelled, such as the requirement for allergens to be clearly distinguished from normal ingredients. These specifications can be read in official documentation on the subject.
In order to correctly label food products, it is of course also essential that caterers and their employees have the requisite knowledge. In some situations, such as canteens or restaurants, it will not be possible to label items, so information regarding potential allergens must be available and accurate upon request. You must make every effort to understand what all of your food products contain, and restaurant allergy advice must be effectively stored and ready for retrieval at any time.
Continuing on from the previous section, it is very important to note that effective allergen management can only happen if you are sure what all products contain. In food preparation areas, it is possible for cross-contamination to occur, which means that a customer could potentially consume an allergen that they did not believe was present. As a result, proper food handling techniques are essential. This means enforcing practices such as separation in storage, equipment, cutlery and more. If you are a chef, allergy legislation will be important to your day-to-day kitchen management.
Hazard analysis and critical control points, known more commonly as HACCP, is an approach to food preparation that aims to ensure that products are safe, which includes ensuring they contain only the allergens they are intended and known to contain. Further information on how HACCP can be implemented is available through the Food Standards Authority, but the core principles centre around controlling points where hazards may be an issue in a structured way so that you can prevent contamination. The seven principles are the following:
Note: Advisory labelling will be necessary in certain situations where it cannot be guaranteed that a product is free from traces of an allergen, but where it is not the intention that the allergen is an ingredient. This is useful for people who have varying degrees of allergic susceptibility.
The most common allergens, and the ones that by law must be clearly labelled on pre-packaged food are the following:
For further guidance on managing food allergies within the catering industry, Virtual College offers a Food Allergy Awareness course that is designed to help businesses become legislation-compliant. Click here to find out more.