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Last updated: 20.02.20

Food Allergy Guidance in Catering and Hospitality

All catering and hospitality businesses must follow the allergen info 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 adequately using specific measures in the kitchen.

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. We’ve pulled together some general guidance for businesses to help you navigate food allergens and protect consumers.

Common food allergens

The 14 most common allergens that you need be aware of are:

  • Celery
  • Cereals containing gluten – including wheat (such as spelt and Khorasan), rye, barley and oats
  • Crustaceans – such as prawns, crabs and lobsters
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Lupin
  • Milk
  • Molluscs – such as mussels and oysters
  • Mustard
  • Tree nuts – including almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Sesame seeds
  • Soybeans
  • Sulphur dioxide and sulphites (if they are at a concentration of more than ten parts per million)

This list makes up the most common food allergies which 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 allergen incident with a consumer.

Displaying food allergen information

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.

Prepacked food, meaning any food fully or partly covered in packaging which is ready to go, must have a visible ingredients list on pack with the allergenic ingredients highlighted in some way so that they can be easily identified.

Prepacked for direct sale, meaning any food prepared and packed on the same premises, will need to have the allergen information provided for every item which contains any of the 14 allergens. However, from October 2021 food businesses will be expected to provide labels for PPDS foods which list all ingredients and emphasise allergens present.

Non-prepacked foods, meaning any loose foods like breads, cheese and pick & mix or items served in restaurants and takeaways, you need to provide the allergen information somewhere visible for any item which contains an allergenic ingredient. This either needs to be present on a menu or chalkboard, providing full allergen information, or a written notice directing people to ask a member of staff who will have an information pack covering all foods served. If you’re running a buffet, you will need to provide allergen information for each individual item which is clearly visible to all consumers.

With recent UK events concerning allergens coming to light which have resulted in the creation of Natasha’s Law, which motivated the changes to prepacked for direct sale items, and the potential implementation of Owen’s Law, there could be more changes to allergen guidance on the horizon. However, all our food hygiene and allergy awareness courses are updated to reflect any drastic changes or new regulations, so you can be sure that your staff receive the most up-to-date training.

Food allergens in the kitchen

For catering companies and hospitality businesses, the kitchen is probably the main focal point for controlling allergens in any foods served. There are three primary areas to consider when it comes to control measures for allergens in the kitchen.

Managing allergen ingredients
You should keep a record of all allergen information in a logbook which contains a product specification sheet for each item served, as well as detailing all recipes with any allergens highlighted so staff can easily identify the information. All allergenic ingredients should be properly labelled and kept within specific containers just for those ingredients.

Controlling cross-contamination
Prevent 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 usages to remove potential allergens, and washing hands in between handling ingredients which are allergenic. Any ingredients and prepped foods that are allergenic need to be kept in separate, sealed containers to prevent them 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.

How to protect customers with food allergies

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 the staff working to avoid any incidents.

Ideally, you should have a process in place for creating a safe meal for a customer with food allergies which takes into account:

  • providing the right information to the customer
  • having accurate and up-to-date recipes which list allergens
  • and providing clear labelling for both staff and customers

Knowing what your critical control points are within your food production chain are and how these can used to ensure a dish is free from an allergen is also important, but if your assessment shows that you can’t create a dish that you’re certain won’t contain an allergen then be honest with the consumer.

Food allergies are become more prevalent in the UK, so it’s more important than ever to be aware of common food allergies and put in place control measures to help minimise the risk of cross-contamination with food allergens. Our food allergy awareness course contains all the information your business needs on allergenic foods and how to make your food safe from food allergens and can be completed at your own pace on both mobile and desktop platforms.

We also have great resources online to help you. Check out our handy infographic which offers advice and guidance on food allergen labels.