Navigating Food Allergies: Best Practices for Caterers

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Food allergies are serious. Even a small amount of the wrong food can cause a serious reaction – one that can be a threat to life.

For those that work with food, there’s a responsibility that goes with the job. You must know how to ensure the food you serve is safe for those who eat it.

Imagine you’re catering a wedding, and the groom has a nut allergy. You plan to serve a dish using a pre-made marinade, but hidden in the ingredients is a nut oil. If you don’t recognise the risk, the result could be unthinkable. 

Nut and food allergies are thought to be on the rise, so catering an event with dietary requirements is highly likely.

If you work with food, you must know how to navigate food allergies. Luckily, that’s what we’re here for.

Understanding The Risks Of Food Allergies

Ever wondered what the difference is between a food allergy and a food intolerance?

Let’s clear things up.

A food allergy is an immune system overreaction to a specific food protein. Even tiny amounts can be dangerous, and reactions can vary from mild itching to a threat to life. Some common foods people can be allergic to include peanuts, shellfish and eggs

A food intolerance, on the other hand, describes a condition where your body has trouble digesting certain foods. This can cause high discomfort but is rarely life-threatening. Examples of common intolerances include lactose and gluten. We can mention coeliac disease here because the two are often confused, but coeliac disease is an autoimmune reaction rather than a sensitivity. 

The 14 Most Common Food Allergens

By law, there are 14 allergens that you must tell customers about if they, or even traces of them, are present in your foods. The 14 allergens are;

  • Celery
  • Cereals containing gluten (such as wheat, barley and oats)
  • Crustaceans (such as prawns, crabs and lobsters)
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Lupin
  • Milk
  • Molluscs (such as mussels and oysters)
  • Mustard
  • Peanuts
  • Sesame
  • Soybeans
  • Sulphur dioxide and sulphites (if the sulphur dioxide and sulphites are at a concentration of more than ten parts per million)
  • Tree nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts).

What Is Natasha’s Law?

Natasha’s law aims to make allergen information clear and consistent to protect people with allergies. Under the law, UK food businesses must provide full ingredient lists and information about allergens on all pre-packaged food they sell directly to customers. 

The law is named after a teenager who died from an allergic reaction to a product containing sesame seeds that wasn’t clearly labelled. 

Training: The Foundation Of Allergy-Safe Catering

Food Hygiene Training 2

Comprehensive staff training is key to ensuring your business remains legally compliant and keeps staff and customers safe. 

Allergy training covers ingredient identification, potential ‘hidden’ allergens and the implementation of cross-contamination procedures in all stages of food handling. Participants also learn about effective customer communication, including understanding dietary needs and ensuring they are clear about potential risks.

All members of your food-related or catering business, including front-of-house staff, should have training. Your team needs to be able to recognise allergy symptoms and know what to do in an emergency.

Train With Envesca

Envesca offers flexible training that can protect your staff and customers by empowering your team with knowledge.

Highfield Level 2 Award In Food Allergen Awareness And Control In Catering 

This half-day course provides participants with everything they need to know about foods that may trigger an allergic reaction. You will learn your legal responsibilities, hidden allergens, labelling requirements and more and come away with an understanding of how to minimise the risk of cross-contamination. 

The level 2 course is suitable for anyone who handles food, including front-of-house staff, in all business sectors. The course can be taken online for the utmost convenience or in person with an in-house course so that a whole team or larger group can be trained at once. 

Highfield Level 3 Award in Food Allergen Management in Catering

Are you a manager or a supervisor? This level 3 course might be for you.

Alongside knowledge about allergens, reactions and how to mitigate the risk of cross-contamination, this course trains participants in the importance of accurate communication of ingredient information from supplier to consumer. Individuals will understand how to control food allergens at all stages of food purchase and production, ensuring that allergen information is communicated to customers. 

Proactive Strategies For Caterers

Training will cover best practices in detail, but here are some quick tips for keeping your kitchen allergen safe.

Allergen-Free Zones

Have an allergen-free preparation zone separate from other prep areas. Keeping allergen-free foods separate applies to all aspects of food service, including delivery to the customer’s table. One member of service staff should carry the allergen-free plate of food to the table rather than transport all of the dishes together.

Colour Coding

Colour-coded utensils and equipment will minimise cross-contamination risks. Ensure that staff members only wash one colour group together, using new gloves each time.

Meticulous Admin

Rigorous ingredient sourcing and transparent supplier communication are key parts of navigating food allergies in food-related businesses. Make sure you know exactly what ingredients are in what you buy and have a sound understanding of food labelling requirements.

Clear Labelling

All foods should be labelled clearly. If you are prepping food off-site and moving it to a venue to serve, you still need to be labelling foods. The same goes for storing ingredients in a kitchen. 

Product Specification Sheets

Record allergen ingredient information in a written format on product specification sheets. For each dish created or product used, the specific allergen box should be ticked, and the ingredients should be recorded. 

Food Allergy Protocol

Every business involved in food handling, preparation, cooking and service should have a set of guidelines and procedures in place that address food allergies. This includes training, communication, emergency response, prevention of cross-contamination allergen identification and menu options. 

Allergy Awareness: Why It’s Good For Business

There are many benefits to being aware of food allergies that span beyond keeping people safe.

By understanding food allergies and how to prevent cross-contamination;

  • You can be certain that you offer a superior, less risky service than your competitors.
  • You can offer dedicated allergy-friendly menus which widen catering opportunities and please clients.
  • You can demonstrate your expertise with endorsed allergy-awareness training for staff to assure customers.

Food Allergy Management Is Key In Catering

Food service is a responsibility and the repercussions of not managing food allergies are severe. Not only could you severely impact the life of a customer but you could also face legal prosecution and suffer damage to your reputation. 

Food allergy training is the first step to ensuring you provide safe catering.Looking for a friendly training company that understands food allergens? The hunt is over. Get in touch with Envesca today to find out how we can help.

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