Welcome to your course.
Within this course we are going to look at food allergens; defining what a food allergy is, which foods are potentially affected, how food allergies can affect a sufferer, and what to do when you suspect an allergenic (anaphylactic) attack may be occurring in your workplace.
The course also considers legal requirements affecting any organisation for serving food to members of the public, and what you need to do to control allergens and cross-contamination. As bonus content the course also briefly considers associated emergency First Aid basics. This final chapter features Helen Underwood, a First Aid expert with 11 years First Aid, Paediatrics & Intensive Care experience. Helen also has a unique insight into food allergies as she is sufferer of a serious nut allergy.
It is important to stress that regardless of the type of food business (e.g. restaurant, pub, hotel, takeaway, delicatessen, sandwich shop, school, childcare setting, care home, food manufacturer, and food retailer), the law applies to all settings serving food to the general public, and to all staff involved in the preparation of food or associated ingredients.
To start this course we are going to talk about your legal requirements. In December 2014 the EU and UK law affecting food production and service (in terms of allergenic ingredients) came into force and for the first time it listed ‘14 named allergens’ and how their presence should be documented and communicated.
December 2014 Changes
On the 13th December 2014, the Food Information for Consumers Regulation 1169/2011 (EU FIC) changed the way allergen information must appear on all food that is pre-packaged, sold loose, or served out of home. This legislation is now effective across the EU.
Since this date, (13th December 2014), by law all food businesses in the UK must ensure that food labels clearly state the presence of any of the 14 named allergens. It also states that all staff dealing with the public be able to answer consumer enquiries regarding the presence of allergenic ingredients.
Additionally, you can no longer make general catch-all statements such as ‘this product may contain nuts’. You need to be specific and accurate with allergenic ingredient content.
Why was this change to the Law necessary?
For many years, most major food manufacturers, brands and retailers such as Tesco and Asda have included ingredients declarations on food sold loose, baked or prepared at deli counters or in-store bakeries, or sold ready-to-eat on the premises in their in-store cafes.
However, what became apparent to EU legislators and food safety agencies was that many smaller food producers and food service locations were using potentially dangerous processes, or had insufficient procedures, to govern their use of allergenic ingredients. Potential failings identified included the following:
Unhelpful or dangerous practices discovered:
- Insufficient sense of ownership or responsibility of the issue of allergens (owners and staff)
- Varying dish ingredients day-to-day according to whatever was available
- Not possessing documented recipes for use in the kitchen to prepare each dish
- Insufficient use of cross-contamination avoidance to prevent allergens entering other foods
- Staff ignorant of the potential dangers of food allergies/allergens to sufferers
- Staff unable to advise customers accurately on allergenic ingredients
- Poor communication between kitchen and front-of-house staff on allergens
- Insufficient ingredients documentation readily available front-of-house to customers
- Inaccurate or otherwise inappropriate labels or signs
- Excessive use of unhelpful statements such as ‘may contain nuts’
The intention and benefits of the EU FIC law is to specifically address these failings, ensuring caterers behave in a transparent and consistent manner, and that customers have a clear understanding of what is actually in a dish and the personal risks any food items may pose.
Labelling Information Overview & Guidelines
As a business you will need to declare the inclusion of any of the 14 named allergens to customers in the most appropriate way for the setting. This includes display on menus, signs or chalkboards, clear signposting to where the information can be obtained, and through oral communication. The allergen information must be accurate, consistent and verifiable upon challenge. For example, when challenged by a consumer, Environmental Health Officer, or Trading Standards Officer.
Idea: Create a folder/book and include a recipe for each dish you serve that highlights any allergens that are in the recipe. Ensure all staff, including new starters, are aware of this information, understand it and have it readily available to show to any customer who is asking the question. It will make your business look professional and give the customer a sense of security.
The new legislation, the Food Information for Consumers Regulation 1169/2011 (EU FIC) was designed to bring general and nutritional labelling together into a single regulation to simplify and consolidate existing labelling legislation into a single framework. As previously mentioned, some changes to labelling have already happened as businesses prepared for these changes.
In addition to the inclusion of foods sold loose, made from scratch, or through the food service sector, the biggest change is in how you display this information and which allergens you must include.
We will detail the 14 allergens in a later chapter. (In most situations, you will not be packaging and labelling foods so this information needs to be included in the folder/book we suggested). The allergenic ingredients need to be emphasised using a typeset that clearly distinguishes it from the rest of the ingredients, for example by means of the font, style or background colour. Food businesses can choose what method they want to use to emphasise the 14 allergens on their product label.
We have provided an example of some labels below, and in a later chapter we will look at this more closely and spend some time explaining how to write a recipe.
Quarter Pounder Beef Steak Mince Burger with Vintage English Cheddar Cheese and Chives
Ingredients: Beef, Cheddar Cheese (Milk), Breadcrumbs (Wheat Flour, Salt, Yeast), Chive, Sea Salt, Spices (Black Pepper, White Pepper, Ginger), Dried Onion, Potato Starch, Sugar, Preservative (Sodium Metabisulphite), Wheat Flour contains: Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Thiamin, Niacin.
Leek & Wensleydale Stuffed Mushrooms
Ingredients: Mushrooms. Leek & Wensleydale Cream Cheese Filling: Wensleydale Cheese (Milk), Full Fat Soft Cheese (Milk), Leek. Ciabatta Crumb: (Fortified Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin, Yeast, Olive Oil, Salt, Leek Powder, White Pepper), Parsley Breadcrumb: Breadcrumb, (Fortified Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin), Water, Salt, Yeast, Palm Oil, Rapeseed Oil, Emulsifier (Mono and Diacetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Mono & Diglycerides of Fatty Acids), Flour Treatment Agent (Ascorbic acid), Water, Butter (Milk), Rusk (Fortified Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin, Salt), Rapeseed Oil, Salt, Parsley, White Pepper, Cheddar Cheese (Milk)
Where several ingredients or processing aids in a food, originate from a single allergenic ingredient, the labelling should make this clear for each ingredient or processing aid concerned. For example, skimmed milk powder, whey (milk), lactose (milk). This is to make sure that a member of staff or a consumer knows exactly what is included. Someone may not be aware that whey is actually milk and you must ensure that there is no confusion. Where the name of the food (such as a box of eggs or bag of peanuts) clearly refers to the allergenic ingredients concerned, there is no need for a separate declaration of the allergenic food.
Your obligations in a nutshell (pardon the pun)
- Ensure you have a clear understanding of your responsibilities regarding allergens
- Cook and prepare food in a consistent manner avoiding varying ingredients or methods
- Use basic cross-contamination avoidance to prevent allergens entering other foods
- Ensure you are aware of the 14 named allergens and their potential threats to customers
- Ensure you are able to advise customers on ingredients (if in doubt, check with the kitchen)
- Ensure ingredients documentation is readily available in the front-of-house for customers
- Use clear signage and labels to communicate the presence of any of the 14 named allergens
- Ensure you display a sign clearly inviting your customers to 'Ask about Allergies'
Understanding the Law
In addition to the Laws affecting the above, there are also certain laws which you need to consider. You may already be aware of them if you have previously undertaken any food hygiene training:
The protection of consumers who are sensitive to food allergies and intolerance is covered by criminal food safety law.
- Article 14, Regulation (EC) 178/2002 prohibits food being placed on the market if it is unsafe. Food is considered to be unsafe if it is injurious to health or unfit for human consumption. To determine if food is unsafe it is essential to consider long term, short term and toxic effects as well as sensitivities in the intended consumer.
- Section 14 of the Food Safety Act 1990 states that it is an offence to sell any food that is not of the nature, substance or quality demanded by the purchaser.
- Section 15 states that it is an offence to sell or display food that is falsely described or labelled in a way that means it is misleading as to its nature, substance or quality.
Basically these laws are to protect the consumer, including people who are sensitive to food allergies. If you knowingly sell a food item that could cause injury, you will be prosecuted. Remember you have a legal duty to provide SAFE FOOD.
As with all food safety matters, an Environmental Health Officer will be responsible for inspecting your business to make sure you are meeting your legal obligations in preparing and serving food safely. The penalties for breaching food safety law, which includes allergens, can have a significant financial impact on your business. As well as the upset and damage caused to other people and to your reputation you can now face fines or even imprisonment. Depending on the size of your company and the seriousness of the of the offence this can be from £100 right up to an unlimited amount! For individuals these fines are also unlimited and there can be up to 2 years’ custodial sentencing for food hygiene offences with the option to prosecute further under criminal law.
Due Diligence Defence
You may already be aware of the term ‘Due Diligence defence’ from your food hygiene training. This is still relevant when we consider food allergens.
To prove Due Diligence, the law states “it is essential to prove that the person took all reasonable precautions and exercised due diligence to avoid contamination of food”.
If someone was to have an allergenic reaction and informed the local authorities, (an Environmental Health Officer), you need to be able to prove that you did everything within your power to avoid a contamination incident. You will need to prove that you have implemented all the current laws we have just talked about and you have acted in good faith. It may be that on closer examination and testing of ingredients that the contamination source may have come from a supplier.
Please note that it is no longer be acceptable for food businesses or a caterer to avoid responsibility by claiming to have no knowledge of the ingredients that are in the food that they are selling. Also remember, there may be allergens hidden in flavourings and the ingredients of sauces, so always make sure you find out.
By the end of this chapter you should have developed the following understanding and insights:
- An awareness of the Food Information for Consumers Regulation 1169/2011(EU FIC)
- An awareness of potentially unsafe practices concerning allergenic food ingredients
- An understanding the term Due Diligence in the context of using allergenic ingredients
- An awareness of potential penalties for not following the legal guidance on food allergens