A Quick Guide To Allergens For Food Businesses
Any food business must make sure that it follows allergen information rules in order to protect its customers, as set out in the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation.
This means that you must make sure all staff members are trained about allergens, so sending them on an allergen awareness for food manufacturing course or similar could prove very useful where compliance is concerned.
Everyone working with food on site must know how to handle and manage food allergens adequately and information regarding allergens must also be provided on both pre-packaged and non-packaged food and drink as standard.
Staff should know the policies and procedures when asked to provide information relating to allergens and seek training on handling allergy information requests. They should also be able to guarantee that allergen-free meals are given to the right people and be aware of the risks of cross-contamination when handling and preparing food, as well as how to prevent it.
As the Food Standards Agency explains, there are 14 main allergens that you have to be familiar with and you must make sure you inform your customers if any of the products you sell contain any of these as an ingredient.
These include celery, eggs, fish, crustaceans, cereals with gluten, milk, peanuts, sesame seeds, tree nuts, mustard, molluscs, soybeans and sulphur dioxide and sulphites.
When it comes to food preparation, you have to make sure you know what is in the food you’re serving up, keeping written records of all allergen ingredient information.
You will also need to work in such a way as to prevent cross-contamination, such as by having separate work surfaces, utensils and chopping boards, cleaning utensils before each use, washing hands thoroughly between preparing different dishes and storing ingredients with allergens separate from those without.
If for whatever reason you are unable to avoid cross-contamination, make sure you tell your customers that you can’t provide them with allergen-free dishes.
According to Allergy UK, this country has some of the highest prevalence rates of allergies in the world, with more than 20 per cent of the population affected by one or more disorder of this kind. Some 44 per cent of British adults suffer from at least one allergy and the number of people suffering in this way is climbing, up by about two million between 2008 and 2009.
Last month (June), environment secretary Michael Gove announced that a new law would be brought in requiring food businesses to include full ingredients labelling on pre-packaged foods, in a bid to protect the two million food allergy sufferers in this country.
The move came after the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, a teenager who died after having an allergic reaction to a baguette from Pret a Manger. As the law stands right now, food prepared on the premises where it is sold doesn’t have to display allergen information in writing, so those with allergies may not be confident when buying food out and about.
The new legislation will be called Natasha’s Law and will tighten the rules by required pre-packed foods directly for sale to have a full list of ingredients, so allergy sufferers can enjoy greater trust in what they’re buying.
Mr Gove said at the time: “Nadim and Tanya Ednan-Laperouse have been an inspiration in their drive to protect food allergy sufferers and deliver Natasha’s Law. These changes will make food labels clear and consistent and give the country’s two million food allergy sufferers confidence in making safe food choices.”
So as you can see, prioritising allergen training at work is an absolute must if you do work with food on a daily basis. In the most serious of cases, a person could have a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis, which can be life threatening.
If you think someone is displaying the symptoms – feeling dizzy or faint, trouble swallowing or speaking and having breathing difficulties – call 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance, telling the operator that they’re having a severe allergic reaction to something.
The NHS explains that food allergies happen when the body’s immune system treats proteins found in food as a threat by mistake. These releases a number of chemicals and it’s these that cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Case study – boy dies after eating chocolate bar
To highlight the importance of appropriate and relevant food safety training where allergies are concerned, read this article on the Manchester Evening News website, detailing how a young boy died after eating a bar of chocolate.
The 11-year-old, who had a severe milk allergy, collapsed and died after eating the chocolate without realising it had milk powder in it. According to the news source, the boy’s father gave him it, assuming that it didn’t have milk in it because it was from a free-from range in a supermarket.
The cause of death was recorded as anaphylaxis secondary to the ingestion of food containing milk, severe asthma and multiple allergies.
Case study – workers guilty of manslaughter after nut allergy death
Last year, two takeaway workers were found guilty of manslaughter after teenager Megan Lee – who had been diagnosed with a peanut allergy aged eight – died after eating one of their meals.
According to the Guardian, the words ‘prawns’ and ‘nuts’ had been written in the notes section of the online order form but the prosecution stated that staff had paid no attention to this entry and served a meal that included a seekh kebab, a peshwari naan and an onion bhaji, all of which were later found to have the “widespread presence” of peanut protein.