When running a food business of any kind, good allergen awareness across the board should be of paramount importance. Nowhere is this more important than at the retail segment of the food production cycle, where customers normally first come into contact with the food product.
For any food retailer, getting this integral part of food health and safety is vital for preventing dangerous allergic reactions, maintaining customer relationships, and complying with local and national laws.
There are 14 main allergens which are highlighted by the Foods Standards Agency as ones which must be accounted for by food retailers:
This is not an exhaustive list, but the above 14 are understood to be the most common.
For many retail outlets and customers, packaging plays an integral role in informing on the presence of allergens in food.
The legal framework for allergen information on food packaging in retail is detailed in the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation which came into force in 2011 and can be read here. This regulation states that food retailers must advertise allergen information to consumers. This legal obligation is then split into pre-packaged and non-pre-packaged products.
Pre-packaged products, or food which is packed before it is put on sale, must have its ingredients advertised on the packaging. Any of the 14 main allergens listed above must be highlighted and made obvious in the ingredients list. This also includes information on whether any ingredients have been produced in an environment where any of the 14 allergens are present.
Where products are packed at direct point of sale or in the place where they are sold, these do not need to have their allergens written on the packaging. An example of this would be a baker making a pie and selling it from the same bakery. These are not consider pre-packaged in the same way that production line food products are; the retailer however must have someone on the premises or an easily-visible document detailing allergens which might feature on the menu. This includes all loose foods on sale.
The best way to develop a work-wide understanding of food allergens and their effect on customers and the business is through training. As a retail owner, you’ll be preparing and directly selling a variety of foods, many of which could contain allergens. It is your responsibility to train your staff to handle allergens carefully and to be able to give customers a rundown of any allergens that are present, or may have come into contact with their food. This includes training staff on the main allergens, the effects they can have on customers who are allergic and the response actions for anyone experiencing a reaction.
Finally, an important aspect of allergen presence in retail is cleanliness in the working environment. When handling uncovered or unpacked food on a surface, be sure to clean the surface after contact and ensure that the employee working with the food washes his hands before and after serving. When storing ingredients, ensure that allergens are kept in separate containers from other foodstuffs – a HACCP system (Hazard analysis and critical control points) will help you achieve this.
A strong understanding of allergens and their impact on retail is always beneficial to any business – in particular when it comes to law, your company’s reputation and the health and safety of your customers.
We also have great resources online to help you. Check out our handy infographic which offers advice and guidance on food allergen labels.