Food Allergen Management: STS Roundtable Effective food allergen management can be hard to achieve. There are numerous pieces of allergen legislation and more is set to be introduced. However, there has still been several high-profile fatal incidents over the last few years. It’s clear more can be done throughout the hospitality industry to improve food allergen management standards.
Last year we brought together an expert food safety panel to discuss food allergen management practices. Those in attendance included the likes of IKEA, Nando’s, Starbucks and Krispy Kreme to name a few. Here we outline the most important food allergen management issues that businesses are currently facing. To read our Allergen Management Whitepaper in full,
please click here. Are Consumers Aware of Their Responsibilities?
41% of 16-24 years olds with food allergies or intolerances feel unconfident asking staff members for allergen information. Unbelievably, a panel member had come across a family where when asked if their child had allergens, both parents gave different answers!
Do people with allergies know the extent of their responsibilities when it comes to eating out or ordering food? And if they do not know their responsibilities, can we really blame the allergy sufferer for this lack of knowledge?
Are consumers and food businesses aware that allergies and intolerances can evolve and become more serious over time? An allergic reaction that once resulted in a harmless rash could unfortunately lead to an anaphylaxis reaction years later. We need to take serious note that no matter how mild an allergic reaction may appear; it should always be treated with the up-most seriousness and care. Otherwise, the consequences can be fatal.
Food Allergen Management Laws Are Complicated
Food allergen management laws are complicated. Additionally, the media often oversimplifies complex legislation meaning we aren’t as educated as we ought to be. Consumers were expecting to see clear allergen/ingredient information printed on signs or menus when the EU FIC Regulation came into force in 2014. But instead, many businesses have taken the choice to give this information verbally.
2021’s allergen legislation changes will attempt to clear up any confusion. However, it is widely agreed that any new laws need to be supported by simple best practice guidance; leaving no room for misinterpretation.
Are We De-skilling Our Workforce?
The food industry is notorious for its high turnover; it’s approximately 70%. Does this high turnover result in poorer trained employees? All food handlers need to suitably qualified. This usually equates to level 2 food safety as well as allergen training. This is usually achievable for larger businesses who can tender for training providers. However, smaller businesses are quite often forced to go down the cheapest or easiest route. Does this then result in poorer trained staff in a small food business?
You can check if you’re inadvertently de-skilling your workforce through:
auditing mystery shoppers EHO inspections compliance data
All these methods are incredibly common, and arguably textbook, within large hospitality businesses. But again, for smaller businesses, these methods tend to be ‘nice to haves’. This means the only way they know their team’s competencies is through EHO inspections. More often and not, it is then too late to rectify any issues.
The different learning styles (visual, auditory, reading/ writing and kinaesthetic) need to be considered when training the hospitality industry. Effective training cannot be a one size fits all approach, however, most often it is. Having a wide variety of training options available for your team can make training more accessible for learners. It might also spark a desire within them to learn more.
If new recruits haven’t undergone the relevant training then they shouldn’t be allowed on the floor.
Food Hypersensitivities Are On The Increase
FSA’s latest Wave report in September 2019 indicated that 21% of UK consumers now have a food intolerance, followed by 5% who have a food allergy.
There are 14 common European food allergens:
celery cereals containing gluten crustaceans eggs fish lupin milk molluscs mustard tree nuts peanuts sesame seeds soybeans sulphor dioxide/sulphite
But we are seeing a sharp rise in emerging allergens such as kiwi and tomato. Currently, allergen training and legislation focuses on the 14 allergens. Does this mean the hospitality and training industry will take a tomato as serious as they would a peanut allergy? As the allergen list is only going to increase, food businesses need to ensure they take every allergen as seriously as possible.
Food Supply Chain Weaknesses
The FSA’s allergy alerts is probably the only way to accurately know if something has been recalled. Whether this is due to cross-contamination or undeclared allergens, it’s time consuming keeping a close eye on the alerts.
Larger food businesses often place contractual obligations on suppliers to notify them directly of product recalls or allergen notifications. Even with this control measure, it’s often a struggle for food businesses to get the message out to their stores promptly.
When it comes to smaller businesses they often buy from cash and carry’s or small scale suppliers. Small food businesses have little chance of becoming aware that the labels on their products aren’t always accurate. This can result in devastating consequences for not only the customer but also the food business.
Blockchain seems to be the most promising solution to this need currently. The FSA have also acknowledged the importance of Blockchain and have trialled it at a slaughterhouse back in 2018. Following suit, France’s Carrefour was the first in Europe to have scannable QR on products such as chicken and milk. This would then allow the customer to see where their food comes from. This technology will have a purpose throughout the supply chain as each company can add their own allergen information. This will then provide as much allergen information to the consumer as possible.
Top Tips For Effective Allergen Management Talk about allergens throughout your business. This includes front of house staff and business owners. If employees know allergens are important to the bosses, allergens are more likely to be important to them too. Introduce best practice that allergen management can affect an employee’s performance review and even bonus Remember that everyone learns differently so ensure there are various options available to get the most out of your team Stress test your allergen procedures regularly Track allergen complaints and near misses to help you identify individual stores or employees where training hasn’t been effective Have clear procedures agreed with your suppliers on how they inform you of product recalls and contamination issues. Most importantly, be sure you can trust the traceability of your supply chains. Cross contamination is one of the leading causes of allergen incidents. Remember that allergens can’t be killed, only cleaned away. Make sure your cleaning equipment is cleaned regularly, especially after coming into contact with an allergen.
To read our STS Allergen Management Whitepaper in full
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