How to manage food allergies in a restaurant
1.5 million people in the UK have a food allergy or intolerance. Around 10 people each year die from eating something that they are allergic to and many more become severely ill. Food allergies are a major food safety issue and quite rightly command a great deal of attention from the media and the Food Standards Agency.
Caterers have a legal responsibility to declare allergens in their products and to prevent them contacting other products. No one could doubt that fully complying with these important regulations is the right thing to do but, unless you manage a food business, it is hard to imagine just how hard that can be.
Here are some practical tips that are key to good allergen management:
1. Train, train and train
Allergen management is dependent on humans and humans make errors. Sometimes due to lack of care, but often due to not knowing better. Make sure all new starters and agency staff are given allergy awareness training on their first day and know to refer an allergic customer to a manager straightaway. There are some great food allergy awareness e-learning courses available that will ensure staff understand the reasons why allergen controls are so important instead of seeing allergy sufferers as ‘fussy’ or difficult.
2. Designate allergen champions
Choose back-of-house and front-of-house allergen champions and make sure at least one is always available in both locations. They should attend the Level 3 Award in Food Allergen Management which is a one-day face-to-face course which will teach them to hazard spot and to predict mistakes that could lead to serious allergen incidents. They will need to know and understand your allergen procedures and menu inside out. Providing them with ‘allergen trained’ badges will make sure your team know who to refer to.
3. Encourage dialogue with allergy sufferers
A large proportion of allergy deaths occur in teenagers and young adults. It is believed this is because they are embarrassed to make people aware of their allergies and willing to ‘take a chance’. If you don’t declare allergens on signage or labels, you are legally obliged to display a sign like ‘if you have food allergies and intolerances, please let us know’ so that customers are aware the information is available. Making it a service standard to ask all customers if they have any allergies when they are served and the wearing of ‘allergen trained’ badges can make allergy sufferers feel safe and that their allergies will be taken seriously.
4. Have strong communication channels
Often allergic incidents occur when a customer has made someone aware of their allergy, but this information has not been communicated clearly to the person responsible for preparing the food. It is not unusual, either, for the wrong meal to be given to a customer due to poor communication between the chef and the server. Allergy sufferers should be referred to a front-of-house allergen champion who will provide product information. They will then liaise with the back-of-house champion who will supervise the preparation and service of the food.
5. Review your allergen information regularly
Your supplier isn’t legally obliged to notify you when the ingredients within a product change, so you should ensure that they will and how they will do this before taking on any suppliers. When ingredients do change you may need to amend your allergen charts, labels, website and other promotional literature. To avoid the risk of out-of-date information being available, you should consider cloud based allergen software, Menu Guide, which allows customers to see at a glance which meals contain the allergen that they cannot eat and allows them to filter your menu according to those that they can eat. A link to this information can be put on your website or customers can find this out by scanning a QR code in the restaurant with their phone.
Safer Food Scores can put your mind at rest that you are following best practice in allergen management. We can carry out advisory visits, develop allergen risk assessments, carry out food allergen audits, provide allergen training and supply you with ‘allergen trained’ badges. We also work with Menu Guide to put your allergen data online. Please contact us for more information.