How do I keep my restaurant allergy-safe?

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You might think that getting your food business allergy safe is a hassle – but think about the consequences of being careless with ingredients that have the potential to kill. If you put the right processes and procedures in place and everyone follows them, you can be sure you are doing your best to keep your customers, your kitchen and your reputation safe.

So, what are the steps you need to follow to make your kitchen allergen safe? This list is not a comprehensive guide – you must ensure that you are properly trained to implement a successful allergen policy in your business – but it is written to show you that making your business allergen proof is logical and achievable, and shouldn’t be intimidating.

Preparation

Step 1 – Understanding

Ensure that you have adequate food allergy training to fully understand the risks of allergenic ingredients and the best practice you must use to ensure a safe business. This is not as simple as just keeping peanuts out of your kitchen!

Step 2 – Ingredients Audit

Be aware of every ingredient that you use in your kitchen, whether cooked in house from individual ingredients or pre-prepared. For every element of every dish, make a list of all ingredients and highlight the 14 known allergens.

 Tip: Don’t forget drinks, condiments and sauces – did you know that malt vinegar contains gluten, for instance?

Step 3 – Process walk through

Walk through the entire ‘life’ of a dish in your kitchen – from delivery, through storage, preparation, service and clean down, considering what would happen if an allergen was present in that dish. Identify points where cross contamination could occur, and how you can prevent it by measures such as:

  • Separated storage and prep zones for allergens 
  • Specific equipment 
  • Clear identification of specially prepared meals during service
  • Efficient clean down and separate pot wash routines

You may decide that you cannot guarantee that allergenic ingredients can be eliminated from dishes – if that is the case, you must communicate this to your staff and customers, to allow them to make informed decisions about their food.

Step 4 – Write it down! 

Once you’ve completed the walk through and decided what you will do to keep allergens isolated, you must write it down in a clear, logical way that can be followed by any team member involved in any stage of the process.

Training

Once you have gathered all of the vital information, you have to pass it onto the relevant staff. Think about different roles in your business and their contact with allergens, as well as their contact with customers

Train your staff clearly in the processes they need to follow when working with allergenic ingredients. It is useful for front of house staff to have an understanding of food prep process, and food prep staff to understand how the front of house team operates. Create a culture in which they are happy to ask questions and seek advice if they don’t understand or have forgotten their training.

Think about how you retrain your staff when dishes, processes or legislation changes, and how often you refresh their training.

It is vital that you include allergen training in your induction programme for new and returning staff.

Communication

Consider the clearest ways in which you can communicate ingredients info to customers. It is a legal requirement to communicate the details of which dishes contain the 14 listed allergens, but some customers have allergies that are not covered by the list, and being able to inform them accurately of all ingredients in all dishes will help your reputation as a responsible business.

The key message for you and your staff when it comes to communication is NOT TO GUESS THE ANSWER TO AN ALLERGEN QUESTION. ’I don’t know’ is always an acceptable answer, if the member of staff then seeks out the correct piece of information. Teach your staff:

Food Standards Agency launches ‘Here to Help’ guide

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The Food Standards Agency have announced the launch of their ‘Here to Help’ Guide, aimed at small and new food businesses adapting to the current situation.

The FSA say,

‘In order to continue operating during COVID-19, many established food businesses have diversified into food delivery, takeaway or online sales. There has also been an increase in people cooking from home and selling food locally or online.

The Food Standards Agency are offering support and guidance to established and new businesses to help address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Here to Help campaign will provide guidance and promote best practice to support food businesses to stay compliant with food hygiene and safety requirements and best respond to the impacts of COVID-19.’

Keeping your customers safe + Covid-19 Signage

Feedback from customers to shops open during the pandemic has proved that they appreciate businesses that take customer safety seriously. Thinking about the journey your visitors take, and how to make that journey as smooth and efficient as possible will help them feel valued and that can only be a good thing, for your customers, your staff and your business. A clear route with bold signage is the first step to bringing customers back onto your premises safely.

Free covid-19 signage, social distancing signage
Free COVID-19 signage / Social distancing signage to help you work within current government guidelines

Step 1 – Outside Spaces

Think about social distancing outside your premises. How do you encourage people to stay 2 metres apart? What are the best methods for you? Think about window posters, floor stickers, rope barriers or free standing frames and flags that can show the customer what is expected of them.

Step 2 – Entrances and Exits

Is it clear to the customer when and where, or even if, they can enter your shop? Think about the messages you want to place at the entrance. Do you need to specify the number of people allowed in at one time? Do you need to let them know which direction to walk in, and what to do once inside? Walk through the process yourself to spot the potential questions and pitfalls. A member of staff on the door to manage the queue can be a great asset, especially if they can chat to customers, lighten the mood and make the experience more pleasant.

Step 3 – Inside the shop

Your customer needs to know how to walk round the shop, where and when to stop, how to order and how to pay. Think about the best way to communicate – stickers on the floor or posters on walls or hanging from ceiling could indicate direction, whereas ordering and payment instructions are best both before and at the point of purchase. And while you’re thinking about signage inside the shop, if you’ve never got round to displaying your Food Hygiene Rating sticker and your team’s food hygiene certificates, now is a great time to get it done!

Design considerations

Do you want a quick and easy solution – if so, check out our free download, ready for you to print up to A3 size or on A4 on a standard printer.  Or do you have a ‘corporate image’ that you would like a designer to incorporate into your signage?

Think about suitable materials. Is paper sufficient – you can amend and replace it easily … or do you need to visit a specialist printer, who can print on longer lasting, weather proof or adhesive material, and provide you with hardware such as frames, screens and flags (N.B. – if you are thinking about floor or hanging signage, please ensure you visit a printer who understands and follows required health and safety guidelines). We’re happy for you to take our templates to a professional printer, but please ask them to drop us a quick line for permission if they’d like to adapt our designs in any way, on clare.grantham@thesaferfoodgroup.com.

Restarting a food business after a temporary shutdown

A quick internet search will reveal a whole raft of information and advice regarding food business operations during and after the pandemic. This checklist, written by the brilliant team at the Institute of Food Science and Technology, is the most comprehensive and easy to follow list we’ve found.

Restart checklist

Important Links

The IFST Knowledge Hub contains a lot of great resources to consolidate advice, practical guidance and links to resources to support individuals, smaller food businesses and larger food operations

IFST Covid-19 Knowledge Hub