Proper training in the food, catering and hospitality sector is hugely important, as there are numerous matters of health and safety to be aware of. From the thorough cooking of food to first aid in the kitchen, there can be a lot to cover, and appropriate training is essential under EU law.
One of the most important considerations in food health and safety training is that of food allergies and allergy awareness.
Thousands of people in the UK, both children and adults, have allergies. They must be able to go about their day-to-day lives in safety, which means that those working with food need to be equipped with the right knowledge.
When allergy awareness training is provided for anyone that works with or around food, the likelihood decreases of an accidental allergic reaction or exposure to an allergen. In this article, we take a look at some of the big risks of food allergies and then go into the ways that allergy awareness training can help to prevent them.
Allergies and allergic reactions range from fairly mild to incredibly severe. Some people may not even know they have an allergy, as the symptoms may be as minor as a slight tingling in the mouth or lips, which doesn’t interfere at all with their ability to eat
However, anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock as it’s also known, can result in an inability to breathe, which is life-threatening. This can result from even minor contact with food to which the individual is allergic.
As a result, food allergy awareness training is incredibly important for anyone who works with food, whether as part of the manufacturing process, preparation stage, or even during serving. By properly understanding the risks, and how to mitigate those risks, workers can help to ensure their colleagues and customers are safe.
Allergy awareness training will equip a person with all of the most important pieces of information that they need to do their job safely regarding allergens. Not all training will be the same, but it’s likely to include the following different topics.
Understanding the basics of what allergies are and how they affect the human body is the first step to successful allergy awareness. Not all are the same, and there are several different types of allergies aside from hundreds of potential triggers.
Fourteen main food allergens cause allergic reactions, many of which are present in ingredients that we use in everyday food products. Not only do you need to be aware of these if you’re serving food, but they also need to be displayed on food labels or packaging so that customers can make informed choices about what they’re eating.
It’s also important to know how an allergy, which is an immune system response, differs from food intolerances, which are generally far less severe. People that have a food intolerance can still eat products containing the ingredient that they react to and don’t often suffer any long-term effects, whereas an allergic reaction can happen instantly and lead to serious health complications.
Milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish are some of the most common causes of allergic reactions in children, and peanuts, tree nuts, fruits, fish and shellfish are the most common causes of allergic reactions in adults. Those on an allergy awareness course will learn more about where these are most likely to be encountered, the kinds of products that unexpectedly contain allergens, and how best to display allergen information to let consumers know what ingredients are present.
There are a number of important pieces of legislation related to allergy awareness, particularly surrounding how allergens are identified and labelled so that consumers know what they’re eating. Given the potential severity of allergic reactions, those working in a food-related environment have strict obligations to those they serve, which means things like having clear labelling and being knowledgeable about the products they’re working with.
Learners will find out more about relevant legislation and how they might apply it in the workplace. Two of the most important regulations are outlined below.
EU Reg 1169/2011 consists of regulations that apply to a wide range of food businesses in the UK. Implemented in 2014, it requires businesses to emphasise the presence of any of the 14 most common allergens in an ingredient list and ensure that information on allergenic ingredients is provided for food that isn’t packaged.
‘Natasha’s Law’ is the latest piece of legislation affecting allergen labelling that was introduced in October 2021 to update the Food Information Regulations 2014. Named after a teenager that tragically died after accidentally consuming an allergen that wasn’t labelled, this law requires all food products that are pre-packed for direct sale to include a list of all their ingredients somewhere on the packaging.
Ensuring that allergens do not come into contact with those who will react to them means taking certain precautions. We’ve already mentioned the importance of proper labelling, which allows consumers to make the right choices. But of course, this information has to be correct, which it cannot be if the preparation process is not effective.
Allergy awareness training teaches learners the best practices for working with allergens, including things like separating utensils for certain ingredients, preparing food separately, and ensuring that the origin of any supplies is thoroughly understood. By having a standardised set of best practices that are taught across all types of allergy training, high standards of food safety are established and people with allergies can feel safe without the worry of accidental exposure to allergens.
Many courses will also help learners understand how to recognise the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction, with pointers on what should be done in such an event. Prompt recognition and response can be critical in ensuring that an allergic reaction – especially anaphylaxis – doesn’t result in severe harm to the individual.
This aspect of allergy awareness is not only important for those that work in an environment where allergens are prepared and sold in food products, but also for people that work in school, social care or healthcare environments. Children and young people in particular may be unaware of allergies that could lead to serious reactions, so even if you don’t work directly with allergens, it’s a useful part of general health and safety training that can save lives.
Training for how to respond to an allergic reaction isn’t always included in courses designed for those working in a food preparation or retail environment, but is often covered in first aid training and may be included in more comprehensive courses.
Once you’re able to recognise the signs of an allergic reaction, gauging what kind of response is needed can help to minimise the impact on the person with the allergies. This might just involve knowing where a first aid kit is kept and supplying antihistamine medication, or in the case of anaphylaxis, knowing how to administer an adrenaline auto-injector, when to ring an ambulance and what to do if someone becomes unconscious.
If you work in an environment where food allergens are present then you will likely have to undertake some kind of allergy awareness training. If you’re an employee, this should be provided as part of your initial onboarding, and if it isn’t then you should raise it with your manager to ensure the business remains compliant with allergen legislation.
If you are responsible for a food business then you are also responsible for providing your staff with allergy awareness training as part of wide food health and safety training. As food allergy awareness training is primarily around knowledge, a food and drink allergy online course may be an effective choice.
Here at Virtual College, we’re very pleased to be able to bring you an online ‘Food Allergy Awareness’ course which covers all of the basics that anyone needs to understand how to safely work with foods that could cause an allergic reaction. The course is RoSPA Assured and only takes 1-2 hours, so is a great option to efficiently get your team up to speed and compliant.
Our food safety courses also include important information about some of the food preparation best practices in regard to minimising the risks of allergic reactions. You can view our range of food health and safety courses here.
Some in-person food safety courses will include a module on allergy awareness, and other online providers offer allergy awareness courses as well.
Anyone that has contact with food or drink at work should receive allergen awareness training. It is also often given to health and social care workers, those who work in education and anyone else that works in an environment where an allergic reaction to food is possible from a customer or client.
The resources involved in allergen awareness training very much depend on the format of the training and what the course includes. In the case of an online course, resources used might include videos, articles and interactive quizzes, whilst in-person allergy awareness training may use a presentation and physical documents or images as resources.
Being aware of children’s food allergies is particularly important if you work with children or serve them food, as young children may not always remember what ingredients they can eat and risk having a reaction. Children may not also be able to articulate that they are having an allergic reaction the same way as adults, so you should be aware of who has allergies so that you can identify if they are acting differently after eating or whilst around a food product.
Allergen awareness training is one of the most important methods of keeping allergy sufferers safe. By ensuring that anyone working with or around allergens understands the risk they pose and how best to minimise the risk to others, allergic reactions are massively reduced and consumers can make informed choices about the food they want to purchase.
If you’re looking for allergy awareness training, we offer an online ‘Food Allergy Awareness’ course that is RoSPA Assured.