Now that Natasha's Law has come into effect, it’s never been so important to manage allergens efficiently and with transparency.
Approximately 2 million people in the UK suffer from some kind of food allergy - and some of them might just be your customers. Following best practices for allergen handling helps ensure that your customers stay safe and protected, and so does your brand reputation.
There are many factors and steps involved in managing allergens in a restaurant, from product separation to avoid cross contamination to the creation of an allergen menu to accurately inform customers. Whether you run a pub, restaurant, bakery or a coffee shop, you’ve got a duty to protect your customers and prevent allergic reactions.
Here are 3 steps to help transform your premises into a more allergy-friendly restaurant:
1. Have an allergen control plan in place
Having an allergen control plan in place is key to becoming more allergy-friendly.
An allergen control plan is essentially a document that covers the handling, storage, packaging, processing and identification of allergens in your restaurant.
These are the main components of an allergen control plan:
Regularly updated allergen procedures
Storage of raw material
Implementation of a colour-coded system (e.g. having dedicated utensils for certain ingredients)
Production scheduling (moving allergens to the end of the production process helps reduce risk of contamination)
Label review policies
Supply chain management
Remember it’s important to keep allergen foods and ingredients in a segregated storage area to prevent cross contamination.
Important actions to prevent allergen cross contamination include:
Washing hands frequently and thoroughly
Cleaning utensils after every use
Cleaning kitchen surfaces regularly
Being aware of ingredients used in dishes (including sauces and dressings)
Updating allergen information if a recipe changes
Communicating risks to customers
If you aren’t able to avoid cross contamination when preparing meals, allergens must be added to your dish’s ingredient list and customers must be made aware.
2. Keep an up-to-date allergen menu
According to the Food Standards Agency, food businesses must tell customers if any of the food they sell contains an allergen as a dish ingredient.
By law, you are required to declare the following 14 allergens:
Sulphites and sulphur dioxide
Cereals containing gluten
Selling food directly to your customers? You must provide accurate allergen information in writing. There are different ways in which this can be done. One of them is by having a menu with full allergen information.
Furthermore, you need to make sure that you include up-to-date allergen information in product specification sheets, ingredient labels, dish explanations and recipes.
If you own a restaurant, the Hubl app’s interactive allergen menu is a great option. Designed by food safety specialists, the app is a digital, intuitive solution for managing and tracking allergens. It features a product catalogue (listing all your dishes and allergen ingredients), a filter functionality and history tracking (very helpful when any changes occur). The Hubl app also lets you add eating requirements - vegan and vegetarian - so that you can further tailor your offerings to each customer.
Failing to provide accurate allergen information can result in very serious consequences, which is why allergen management should be an integral part of all your processes.
Don't forget: As per Natasha's Law, you must clearly label all foods packed and produced on your premises with a complete list of ingredients – clearly emphasising any allergens. The new law applies to all foods packed and prepared on the same site as they are sold (PPDS).
3. Train your staff and raise allergen awareness
If you’re a food operator, it’s your duty to ensure that your staff receives proper training on how to manage allergens on an annual basis (or more frequently if deemed necessary). This is a key step to take towards becoming an allergy-friendly restaurant.
Training is key to minimising risk and improving efficiency. Poor allergen management or negligence can lead to food being contaminated with allergens, or inaccurate information being provided to customers.
According to the Food Standards Agency, your staff should:
Be able to guarantee that allergen-free dishes are served to the right person
Know the risks of cross contamination
Know how to handle food to prevent cross contamination
Know the procedures to follow if asked to provide information about allergens
Know how to handle requests for allergen information in an accurate manner
There are many allergen resources available as well as different types of training, including in-person and online options.
Food allergies & restaurants
What does being “allergy friendly” actually mean? There is no official definition, so this can vary.
You can think of an allergy-friendly restaurant as an eating establishment where every possible precaution is taken to avoid allergic reactions and protect customers’ health. This involves every process where allergens may be present, and always keeping up-to-date, accurate written records and information available.
As mentioned above, three key steps to becoming an allergy-friendly establishment include having an allergen control plan in place, having an allergen menu and records, and training your staff regularly.
Many restaurants are now part of the Allergy Aware Scheme - a partnership between food outlets and the national charity Allergy UK to help ensure the safety of customers.
Remember that local authorities are responsible for enforcing allergen regulations. Failure to comply with such regulations can result in legal, financial and reputational damage.
Allergy training for food businesses; Food Standards Agency; Accessed August 2021
Allergen guidance for food businesses; Food Standards Agency; Accessed August 2021