For all of you food business owners or managers out there, we’ve compiled some practical tips that cover allergen management in the food industry.
Around 10 people a year in the UK die from allergic reactions to food. You have a duty, both legally and morally, to manage allergens in your food business. To help you do this, we’ve compiled ‘seven steps to managing allergens’ which should give you a good basic understanding of allergen management in the food industry.
The big 14
Firstly, what are food allergens?
According to EU FIC regulations (see below) the 14 allergens found in foods are classified as:
Some foods may contain hidden allergens, such as Worcester sauce, which is made from anchovies and therefore potentially fatal to those with allergies to fish. So be attentive when choosing ingredients!
Thorough allergen management in the food industry should take into account labelling of any of the above 14 allergens. It only takes a tiny amount of an allergen to cause a potentially fatal allergic reaction.
Furthermore, the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU FIC) details the legal requirements under which the above 14 allergens that must be referenced in food labelling and the particulars of that labelling.
This is a legal obligation enforced by the Food Information Regulations 2014.
Find out what the Food Standards Agency says about allergen management in the food industry.
Why is allergen management in the food industry so important?
Apart from fulfilling your legal obligations (discussed later), why is it important to cover allergens in your food safety management system?
We’ve mentioned allergic reactions a few times now, and it’s important to your understanding of allergen management in the food industry to know a little bit about the symptoms and causes of allergic reactions, otherwise known as Anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis is a dangerous and life threatening allergic reaction to allergens, also known as anaphylactic shock.
Anaphylaxis, if not treated quickly, can cause serious and permanent side effects. It can also be fatal. Symptoms include:
- swelling of throat and mouth
- difficulty swallowing, breathing, or speaking
- fast heart rate
- abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting
- lowered blood pressure
- anxiety and confusion
According to the Food Standards Agency 10% of people in the UK suffer from food allergies and are therefore susceptible to anaphylaxis. In today’s population, that’s over 6.6 million people!
8% of food allergy sufferers in the UK are children.
Your appointed first aider should have up to date training on the treatment of anaphylactic shock, including CPR and resuscitation. It’s also important for you to know how to prevent allergic reactions in customers by ensuring that you and all of your staff are aware of how to actively manage allergens in your workplace.
If you don’t label or manage allergens appropriately, and they are then served to a customer who has food allergies, that customer could go into anaphylactic shock.
And you would be liable.
Seven Steps To Managing Allergens
We’ve compiled seven quick tips for managing allergens in your food business. These will go a good way towards ensuring you have put in place or at least considered allergen management in the food industry.
Our seven steps to managing allergens are:
1. Have a HACCP system
2. Cover the management of allergens in your policy and procedures
3. Train your staff in allergen awareness
4. Identify allergens used on site
5. Be aware of labelling rules and regulations
6. Store food containing allergens appropriately
7. Keep suitable records.
To expand on these points:
1. HACCP – i.e. (Hazard and Critical Control Point) food safety management system. Having a thorough food safety management system will identify areas of risk and appropriate controls, as well as covering your legal duties. As such, allergen management in the food industry will be covered. If you need any help with HACCP systems, please feel free to contact us.
2. Policy / procedures – Your food safety policy should reference your objectives and legal requirements for managing allergens. A procedure for how exactly you manage allergens is essential. It should identify allergen risks. Also ensure your emergency procedures are up to date, particularly for the provision of first aid.
3. Training – All staff should be trained in allergen awareness so they know how foods containing allergens can be cross contaminated. Training on how to deal with allergy requests is also essential. Check out our training page if you need to source courses.
4. Identify all allergens used on premises –One possible control could be to prepare food containing allergens on a different day, or at the end of the day, and then make sure all contact areas and items are thoroughly cleaned. You should also use a separate preparation area for foods containing allergens.
5. Labelling – As mentioned previously, any of the above 14 allergens used in your workplace should be clearly labelled on food packaging, or made clear on menus and notices for prepared food.
6. Storage – Where possible allergenic raw materials should be stored away from other ingredients, for example, keeping them in sealed plastic bins/containers that are clearly marked or colour-coded. Also retain product information when transferring foods from packaging into storage containers. You should keep expiry dates, allergen information, batch codes, etc.
7. Record keeping – You should check all ingredients used on premises for allergens. Check supplier labelling. Remember to check labelling on substituted foods, for example when usual brands are out of stock. An allergen checklist should be created and maintained when preparing food. It should list which allergens are used. If any new ingredients are added to the menu they should also be added to the allergen checklist.
How to implement this information
A good way of gauging your current provisions for allergen management in the food industry and food safety management in general is a by having a gap analysis carried out.
This is a cost effective way of ensuring you are meeting all of your legal requirements. And if you need to improve in certain areas, you’ll be given an actionable report detailing exactly what you need to work on to achieve compliance.