Food safety & Allergens: Education vs. Ignorance
According to recent figures, approximately 15 million people live with food allergies. Restaurants, pubs and cafes are filled with more educated guests who are also being fuelled by media led misinformation. Employees and food service professionals are sometimes just as guilty of being uneducated or misinformed. Even today, after so many high-profile cases, it is astounding how many food suppliers do not know the importance of allergen training and food safety awareness.
Food Allergies & Intolerances Explained
Let’s clear up some differences between allergies, intolerances, sensitivities and irritations as they relate to food. An allergy can be mild-to-severe, causing symptoms ranging from mild hives to breathing issues, and may result in death in severe cases. An intolerance or sensitivity can cause mild-to-severe discomfort, and medical attention is sometimes needed. In the case of an irritation, it is often an annoyance and may cause discomfort, but medical attention is rarely needed.
What are these sinister food items causing all the trouble? milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, soy, peanuts and tree nuts. Celery, cereals containing gluten – including wheat (such as spelt and Khorasan), rye, barley and oats, lupin (a legume from the same family as peanuts ) molluscs – such as mussels and oysters, mustard, sesame seeds, sulphur dioxide and sulphites (if they are at a concentration of more than ten parts per million)
In the case of an allergic reaction, physical symptoms are often apparent, and employees must be aware of these indications. Warning signs every foodservice employee should be aware of, and may need to call 999 about, are:
• Stomach pain
• Nausea or vomiting
• Coughing or wheezing
• Shortness of breath
• Difficulty breathing or swallowing
• Swelling of airways
Restaurants will always appreciate being told or warned of any special dietary needs ahead of time. By giving staff time to prepare, the wait will be lessened, and the food will be handled properly. If a kitchen is limited on equipment or space, items may not be efficiently cleaned. Restaurants may not all carry products that meet a guests’ needs or exceptions. For severe allergies, guests must understand that cross-contamination cannot be avoided.
What Needs to Be Done?
Training and education are key. All hospitality organisations must make it a priority to train and educate their staff in food safety, including food allergy education.
Handling & Avoiding Cross-Contamination
Some food products can be contaminated before they are handled by employees. This should be labelled by the manufacturer. Common examples are products processed in a plant with other products containing wheat or nuts. It is our obligation to notify our guests that such products are used. This can be done with a menu note, tabletop advertisement, and/or relayed by the staff.
Most allergen contamination's happen due to mishandling and mislabelling of food products. As food handlers, there are important steps we can take.
• Implement a personal hygiene program. Cross-contamination is possible from surfaces and people.
• Use reputable suppliers
• Store all prepared food in areas separate from contaminants.
• Properly handle, clean and store products in areas away from contaminants.
• Wash and sanitize all equipment (use separate area or equipment when possible).
• Required training programs for front- and back-of-house employees.
• Inform guests of “secret” ingredients.
• Use visible disclaimer of possible allergens on menu.
Outcomes of Food Allergen Cross-Contamination
Aside from the obvious danger to the allergy sufferer, the possible hospital stay, loss of work etc an establishment may experience lawsuits, monetary loss, loss of customers and reputation, negative media coverage, insurance liability and possible business failure—all because the chef stored the rice near the lobsters.
By training employees, they have more accountability in keeping guests with allergies safe, and they gain a level of confidence for having added knowledge when a guest asks about specific menu items.
As industry leaders, we must keep a clean, safe environment for all guests, regardless of their dining needs. It is crucial that we continue to educate both our staff and our guests.
At Hygiene Sue we teach both Allergen management and awareness and food safety ensuring both you and your staff close the knowledge gap and are a safe establishment to visit.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. The law may have changed since this article was published.