Allergens : Top tips for getting it right the first time.

Following the death of two people in the UK due to allergenic reactions, the UK food service sector has come under pressure to avoid another tragic event.  Allergen regulations are increasingly strict and complex for foodservice business. 

Here are our top tips for making sure you always get it right;

Know your “onions”

It is important to know what allergens come with the ingredients you use. This is the first main introduction of allergens into your kitchen.  Ask your suppliers to provide the allergen information in a product specification.  Watch out for ingredients such as nuts & seed oils, salad dressing, sea foods which may contain some allergens.  Also review the ingredient declaration of any pre-packaged product. It is important to have a list of ingredient vs allergens present. Keep it up to date.  

Think and create sysems

The allergen information needs to be transferred into recipe sheets, labelling declarations, dish menus etc. A carefully mapping of where all the ingredients (and associated allergens) are used within recipes is vital.   

In 2016, Megan was 15 years old when she suffered an allergenic (nut) reaction after eating a meal from a takeaway restaurant in Lancashire. She later died.  The Judge in the sentencing said the restaurant owners had no system or process in place to manage allergen control. The menu had no information and no records was kept of ingredients in the dishes. The meal was bought via Just Eat.  The FSA requires that the allergen information should be disclosed before completing order (online or on the phone) and labelled on the takeaway pack.  

Training and communication

These 2 tips cannot be underestimated and they go hand in hand. This is the backbone of all the tips. If you haven’t, please put plans in place now to train all your staff on an allergen awareness training. There are free online allergen training and onsite training as well. Every member of staff should be aware of the 14 EU allergens and details of ingredients present in each dish. They should be able to communicate this information accurately to customers and rely on up to date documented menu vs allergen lists.

 In 2019, a 16-year-old suffered an allergenic reaction to peanuts after several (false) assurances that the chicken masala curry did not contain peanuts prior to going to the restaurant and upon arrival. It only took 2 or 3 mouthfuls of the meal for her suffer the reaction. Needless to say, the restaurant owner was fined and hygiene rating dropped from 4 to 1. Thankfully, in this case it was non-fatal.

“A recipe for disaster”

Like many restaurants and food service outlets, different menus are been cooked at the same time. On a busy day, the risk of cross contamination of allergens from one recipe to the other is very high.  Here are some practical guides that could help:

  • Store product with allergens separately and in a closed and labelled container.
  • Think before using oils that used to cook other allergenic foods – cross contamination can occur.  
  • Clean hands in between handling recipes with different allergen profiles and before starting work.
  • Separate work surfaces to be used,
  • Clean utensils immediately after use.
  • It is important to stress that if as a restaurant, you cannot prevent cross – contamination, customers should be made aware.

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