Food allergies have become an increasingly important issue in recent years. As a hospitality business, it is essential to manage food allergens effectively to ensure the safety of your customers. Failure to do so can have severe consequences, including legal action, loss of business, and most importantly, endangering the lives of customers with allergies.
Since October 2021 allergen labelling has been mandatory for all food establishments following the introduction of Natasha’s Law and the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died after suffering an allergic reaction.
What are food allergies?
Food allergies are an abnormal immune response to specific foods. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can include hives, itching, swelling, vomiting, and anaphylaxis, which is a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. The most common food allergens are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat.
Cross-contamination occurs when allergens from one food come into contact with another food, usually through shared equipment or preparation surfaces. For example, if a knife is used to cut a peanut butter sandwich and then used to cut a plain sandwich, the plain sandwich can become contaminated with peanut allergens. Therefore, it is crucial to take necessary precautions to avoid cross-contamination.
As a business you can avoid cross contamination in order to keep your customers with allergies safe, by taking very simple steps, including:
Washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after handling food.
Using separate cutting boards, knives and utensils.
Storing food separately.
Cleaning and disinfecting work surfaces, equipment and utensils before and after preparing food.
Allergen Management Best Practices
As advised by The food Standards Agency, here are some of the best practices for handling allergens:
Develop a food safety plan that includes allergen management.
Train your staff on food allergens, including how to identify and handle them safely.
Use separate equipment and utensils for preparing allergen-free meals.
Store allergenic foods separately from non-allergenic foods.
Label all foods that contain allergens.
Have clear procedures in place for dealing with allergic reactions, including emergency contact information for medical professionals.
Keep track of your menu ingredients and relevant allergens on a digital checklist such as the Hubl app, where users can list all their menu items and the applicable allergens to each specific dish. Hubl’s interactive allergen feature means that it can easily be updated, edited and modified when any changes to the menu and dishes are made. It also allows for allergens to be filtered out, allowing for customers with a specific allergy to see what they can still eat.
Providing Allergen Information
As a food business, it is essential to provide accurate allergen information to customers.
Food Safety Consultant and MD of Complete Food Safety, Robert Morris explains: “Having accurate Allergen information for everything on a menu is a vital part of any Allergen management system. With menus and dishes regularly changing, having the ability to easily update this information and present it in an easy to understand format, is crucial to ensuring customers with allergies are kept safe.”
This information can be provided in various ways, such as:
Allergen menu or chart - provide a detailed list of allergens in each dish on the menu.
Allergen statements - include allergen statements on the menu, such as "this dish contains peanuts."
Allergen cards - provide cards to customers that indicate their allergen requirements, which can then be passed to the kitchen staff.
Digital resources - provide allergen information on your website, social media, or through an app such as Hubl that you and your staff can easily refer to.
Food Allergen Information Requirements
Food businesses are legally required to provide allergen information to customers. The Food Information Regulations 2014 state that all food businesses in the UK must provide information on 14 major allergens, which include:
Cereals containing gluten (such as wheat, barley, and oats)
Crustaceans (such as prawns, crabs, and lobsters)
Mollusks (such as clams, mussels, and oysters)
Nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts)
Sulphur dioxide (used as a preservative in dried fruits and wine)
Managing food allergens in a food business is therefore critical for the safety of customers with allergies. Cross-contamination is a major concern, and best practices such as separate equipment and utensils, proper storage, and labelling can help avoid this.
Providing accurate allergen information is also essential, and food businesses must offer information on the 14 major allergens by UK law. With these measures in place, food businesses can ensure the safety and well-being of all their customers.