I am frequently coming across food businesses who have inadequate or incorrect allergen information which can cause serious problems in terms of not keeping customers safe, poor FHRS ratings, fines and worse.
The most common reason food business owners give for not sorting out their allergen controls is that they haven’t got enough time to do it and this is the most worrying part.
Compiling your allergen management procedures is not something you do when you have a bit of spare time it’s what has to be in place every time you open your door to customers and compliance is not an option.
I have put together a simple plan to help you get a robust allergen procedure in place today:
Providing customers with accurate allergen information in the food you serve:
- Inform your customers of allergens and cross contamination risks by displaying a sign on the wall, counter or menu, make sure this is not hidden and easy to read
- Identify the 14 allergens in ALL your menu items. Go through each dish and record the allergens: look at your suppliers list or ingredients lists on prepacked food and don’t forget specials menus, sauces, cooking oils etc. The easiest way to do this is on an allergen matrix (These can be downloaded for free from https://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/media/document/allergen-chart.docx)
- It is recommended to record any ‘may contain’ allergens on your matrix as well, use the traffic light system see my previous blog on Precautionary Allergen Labelling (PAL), as it depends on the customers sensitivity and how severe there allergy is to whether they will be able to eat food which has a ‘may contain’ allergen in it
- If you display cakes, pastries, sandwiches etc. put signs displaying the allergens in each product next to the item and think of the cross contamination risks
Controls to prevent cross contamination of allergens
- Write down on how you manage cross contamination of allergens and the controls you have in place as part of your food safety management system. If you are using SFBB fill in the relevant allergen section.
- Think about what controls need to be in place at each stage in the preparation and service of the allergy sufferer’s meal to make sure cross contamination does not occur
- Make sure all food deliveries are from an approved supplier
- If you run out of something make sure you check and change the allergen information and inform your staff of the changes
- check packaging for any possible contamination,
- substitutions – if your supplier changes an ingredient or product they should let you know so you can change your allergen information
- store allergen ingredients in closed containers with close fitting lids,
- If possible store allergen ingredients in a separate area and if this is not possible on a separate low shelf below other ingredients so cross contamination is less likely to occur,
- Label containers with allergens if decanted,
- Use a different coloured box e.g. purple, so allergens are easily identifiable
Preparation (of an allergy sufferer’s meal):
- Pre-clean and sanitise the preparation area
- use dedicated scoops and utensils for allergen ingredients
- ensure staff wash their hands before handling any equipment or ingredients
- provide hot water, soap and towels at wash hand basins to staff can wash their hands
- Make sure all equipment, including the plate used to serve the meal, is washed at a high temperature with detergent to remove any allergens,
- provide disposable aprons/gloves to prepare food,
- use colour coded cloths.
- Prepare allergy free meals in a separate area if available,
- Check the allergen information on ingredients and the allergen matrix.
- If possible one member of staff should prepare the allergen free meal
- Be careful and check garnishes
- prepare ‘allergy free’ foods in a separate area or at a separate time,
- use separate tongs and cooking utensils,
- avoid multi-use equipment, for example mixers,
- label dedicated fryers e.g. gluten free,
- label cooking oils,
- keep allergen ingredients covered and return them to the dedicated storage area
- make sure front of house staff ask all customers if they have and allergy and if they do pass this information to a duty manager and head chef
- Ask the customer which food or ingredients they can’t eat and whether it is life threatening or an intolerance
- Help the customer to make an informed choice and refer to the allergen matrix, speak to the head chef or show the manufacturers label – NEVER GUESS!
- If the customer has a serious allergy let them know about the unavoidable cross contamination risks, for example you have a dessert that contains peanuts, or use flour in your kitchen.
- make sure front of house staff record and communicate allergen requests on orders passed to the kitchen or through your POS system,
- provide separate tongs and scoops and warning signs with allergen information on buffets or self-service counters
- clean highchairs between use,
- advise customers of cross contamination if different milk used at coffee machines.
- Ensure staff wash their hands before serving the allergen sufferers meal
- Check with the chef that the meal is the allergen free meal that was ordered
Train your staff on allergens:
- Make sure your staff receive allergen awareness training and know what to do if a customer has an allergic reaction, training can be completed online or in a classroom setting
- Nominate a Staff Member on each shift who will handle all food allergy queries from both customers and staff
- Put in place a procedure for recording allergen incidents and complaints and make sure corrective action is taken to prevent it happening again
TOP TIPS TO HELP CONTROL ALLERGENS
- Accurately identify the allergens in the food you serve
- Let customers know about allergens
- Ask customers if they have an allergy and how serious it is.
- Make sure staff know to tell a manager or senior staff member on shift if a customer has an allergy
- Make sure staff know how to prepare and serve an allergen meal safely
- Discuss a customer’s allergy and give them accurate information so they can make an informed choice.
- Have your allergen matrix available in the kitchen and front of house
- Train all your staff on allergen awareness
- Document your allergen controls and review and keep them up to date
For more information on allergen management and training please contact us for more informationhttps://www.foodsafetylogic.co.uk/contact-us/