How do we make it safer to eat out for people with food allergies?
A pub lunch or dinner at a restaurant is something most people take for granted as a nice treat: but if you have a food allergy such a simple activity can feel like Russian roulette.
Trying to establish if your food is safe to eat is at best annoying and at worst, a matter of life and death.
So what can we do to make eating out safer?
Food allergies have a huge range of symptoms and causes. In recent years, changes to food labelling laws have meant that choosing and buying food from shops and supermarket has become much easier for food allergy sufferers.
There are 14 common allergens that must be labelled in bold in ingredients lists. These are:
· cereals containing gluten (such as barley and oats)
· crustaceans (such as prawns, crabs and lobsters)
· lupin (a legume from the peanut family)
· molluscs (such as mussels and oysters)
· sulphur dioxide and sulphites (if they are at a concentration of more than ten parts per million)
· tree nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts)
Of course, some people may be allergic to other foods, but having the above allergens clearly labelled has reduced the risks of food shopping for thousands of people.
It’s when you’re eating out – whether grabbing something from a coffee shop or having a meal in a restaurant – that negotiating potential allergens in food becomes far more difficult.
Few people will not have heard the tragic story of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who suffered a fatal allergic reaction to sesame seeds that weren’t labelled on the baguette she bought from a branch of Pret.
Natasha’s Law – coming into force this October – will improve how prepacked for direct sale (PPDS) products highlight allergens and is great news for allergy sufferers.
However, Natasha’s Law will not apply to pubs, restaurants and non-PPDS meals, and it’s here that risks can remain.
When you eat out, the restaurant or café must provide allergen information in writing, for example, allergen information on their menu or a prompt explaining how you can obtain this information. This may include advice that you ask a member of staff about the allergen contents of a dish you might want to order.
Some companies are excellent and having and sharing food allergy information, but many are still falling short.
Making your business safer for people with food allergies can be summarised in four steps:
1. Ingredient knowledge and record-keeping
You must be aware of EVERY ingredient in ALL of your dishes – including dressings and sauces that are bought in. The tiniest trace of an allergen could have devastating consequences, as we saw with Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, so the risk of cross-contamination must also be considered.
Chefs and kitchen staff should have adequate training to recognise the 14 allergens – especially if they have the freedom to create their own dishes for your menu – and processes need to be in place for them to record and share information about any new dishes containing allergens with the wider team.
2. Whole-team allergen training
The Food Standards Agency encourages food allergy sufferers to ask for allergen information, either when booking a table, or when ordering food. It is therefore imperative that managers, waiting staff etc are educated about food allergies and their potential severity, and know – or know where to find – accurate, up-to-date information.
3. Menu labelling
Keep your menus up to date with the allergy information on your dishes. This makes it easy for your customers to make safe, informed choices.
However, well-labelled menus do not remove the need for good staff knowledge, as customers may still have further questions.
If your business has all the correct processes in place and is confident to serve customers with food allergies – shout about it!
The Food Standards Agency estimates that there are 2 million people in the UK living with a diagnosed food allergy and 600,000 (1 in 100) with coeliac disease. So there is a huge number of people out there looking for businesses like yours, where they’ll feel safer eating out.
Need more help and advice about food labelling? Get in touch.
Our products ensure your PPDS food and/or menus are correctly labelled.