Food allergies are something that the majority of people won’t think about that frequently. But when you work in the catering and hospitality industry, allergy awareness is an essential part of your day-to-day role.
All catering and hospitality businesses must follow the allergen information rules set out in EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation. These regulations state that you have to provide allergen information to the consumer for both pre-packed and non-prepacked food and drinks, as well as ensuring you handle and manage food allergens in the kitchen using specific measures.
Staff training is essential in meeting these requirements, keeping them up to date on any regulations and making sure each staff member can perform their duties with allergens in mind. In this article, we’ve pulled together some general allergen guidance for food businesses to help you navigate food allergens in the workplace and protect consumers.
Whilst it’s possible to be allergic to any food ingredient, the majority of people are allergic to one of 14 main food allergens. If you work in catering or hospitality, these common ingredients are the ones you’ll need to manage your interactions with and around.
The 14 most common allergens are:
These common food allergens should be monitored within your business, whether that’s in your recipes or used in specific steps of the production process. This is due to cross-contamination risks, which can cause allergens to be present in dishes you wouldn’t expect and can result in an allergic reaction from a consumer. It also means that everyone working as part of the business can advise consumers on what ingredients are present in the dishes or products they serve.
Depending on how you present the food you use for your catering or hospitality business, you will have to comply with the relevant rules around ingredients and allergens. In allergy-friendly catering, all products and dishes being served will have allergen information easily accessible to help consumers make informed choices.
Prepacked products are any food fully or partly covered in packaging which is ready to go. These products must have a visible ingredient list on the packaging with the allergenic ingredients highlighted in some way so that they can be easily identified.
If you’re serving consumers prepacked food or offering it to guests in a hospitality setting, make sure that allergen information is displayed on each individually wrapped product and not just on the larger packaging they came in.
If products are prepacked for direct sale (PPDS), this means that they have been prepared and then packaged on the same premises. The rules for allergen labels on these products were recently changed when a new piece of legislation known as ‘Natasha’s Law’ was brought in, requiring allergen information to be on the packaging of every individual PPDS piece of food.
If you’re preparing food and then putting it in packaging to offer consumers in the same place, this packaging must list the ingredients and any allergens present.
Any loose foods like bread, cheese, pick & mix or items served in restaurants and takeaways need to provide the allergen information for any item somewhere visible. This is usually done on the menu, but for some businesses, allergen information will need to be written on a notice board depending on what is being served.
Many businesses also have a catering food allergy policy which suggests that consumers concerned about allergens should speak to a specific member of staff. This staff member needs full knowledge of the allergens present in products and the kitchen, often contained within an allergy guidance document.
If you’re running a buffet, you will need to provide allergen information for each individual item which is clearly visible to all consumers.
For catering companies and hospitality businesses, the kitchen is probably the main area to focus on when controlling allergens in any food served. There are three primary areas to consider when it comes to controlling measures for allergens in the kitchen.
All catering and hospitality kitchens should keep a record of allergen information in a logbook which contains a product specification sheet for each item served. Businesses should also keep a record of all recipes prepared in the kitchen, with any allergens highlighted so that staff can easily identify the information.
All allergenic ingredients in a kitchen environment should be properly labelled and kept within specific containers just for those ingredients. These containers should be stored separately, and staff should take care to put containers back in the right place after use.
Preventing allergenic ingredients from coming in contact with other substances should be a priority within the kitchen. Methods should be implemented to minimise the risk of this occurring, such as having separate chopping boards, utensils and work surfaces for allergenic ingredients, cleaning utensils in between uses to remove potential allergens, and washing hands in between handling ingredients which are allergenic.
As we’ve already mentioned, any ingredients and prepped foods that are allergenic need to be kept in separate, sealed containers to prevent them from contaminating other foods in the kitchen.
Cross-contamination can also occur when cooking, like using the same oil to fry gluten-free foods and any ingredients which contain gluten. Part of allergy training for food businesses should involve training staff to follow allergy-safe cooking procedures that avoid the chances of this happening.
If a customer informs staff that they have a food allergy, it’s up to the staff to communicate this effectively to the rest of their team to avoid any allergy-related incidents. It’s important to know what your critical control points are within your food production chain and how these keep dishes free from allergens, but if you’re unsure if a dish is totally safe, you must be honest with the consumer.
Ideally, you should have a process in place for creating a safe meal for a customer with food allergies, which takes into account:
Food allergies are becoming more prevalent in the UK, so it’s more important than ever for catering and hospitality businesses to be aware of common food allergies and put in place control measures to help minimise the risk of cross-contamination. The best way to ensure this is to offer your staff food health and safety training or specific allergy awareness training, which will cover all the information your business needs on allergenic foods and how to make your food safe from food allergens.
Food allergies are caused when the body’s immune system mistakes a protein in an ingredient for a threat and attacks it like it would a pathogen. This releases chemicals that cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as a rash, swelling, shortness of breath or stomach pains.
A food intolerance tends to just affect the digestive system, as it means your body is not as good at digesting a certain kind of food product and tends to cause symptoms that are mainly to do with the stomach. A food allergy however is caused by the immune system reacting to a type of food, which can trigger reactions around the entire body.
A food allergy reaction can last from a couple of minutes to several days, depending on how severe the reaction is. In mild cases, a person might experience them for a couple of hours maximum, but the worst of these will usually disappear quickly. In cases of a severe allergic reaction, symptoms might still be happening days later and the person with allergies will take a long time to recover.
With recent UK events concerning allergens coming to light which have resulted in the creation of Natasha’s Law, and the potential implementation of Owen’s Law, there could be more changes to allergen guidance on the horizon. It’s therefore not only important to ensure that all staff working in the catering and hospitality industry have been given comprehensive allergy awareness training, but that this training is kept up to date to ensure that their employer remains compliant with food safety legislation.
If you’re looking for allergen awareness training for your catering or hospitality business, we offer an online ‘Food Allergy Awareness’ training course that includes all the information you need to help you run an allergy-safe kitchen and keep staff aware of the risk that allergens present.