There have been a few high profile news stories recently about allergens not being adequately labelled in fast food outlets and restaurants, which have resulted in fatalities.
This highlights the importance of food allergen control within the food industry. It protects your customers from eating something toxic to them and protects your business from the consequences.
There are 14 common allergens: celery, cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs, mustard, nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, soybeans and sulphur dioxide and sulphites.
It is an EU directive that food businesses should provide allergen information for pre-packed, and fresh food. There are different rules for each.
Pre-packed food must have an available ingredients list with potential allergens highlighted to make it clear for the consumer. For some businesses having a list available for consumers to check has been enough, but from October 2021 an individual label must be provided.
When preparing food, there are also a number of rules regarding handling in order to ensure that allergens do not contaminate other foods.
This involves having separate surfaces, utensils and chopping boards for the allergens as well as storing them separately. Ingredients and prepared foods should also be stored separately in labelled containers.
Hand and kitchen hygiene is also key to limiting the possibility of cross-contamination.
For loose foods (for example, in restaurants) there should be a list of ingredients for dishes which contain any of the 14 allergens. There should be a notice making it clear how consumers can get information on the ingredients – whether this is asking for a list or speaking to a member of staff.
Often the system fails when serving staff are not adequately trained and can provide the wrong information when asked.