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Allergen legislation: Is your food safe?

14 allergens

The inquest into the death of 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died after having an allergic reaction to a Pret a Manger baguette in 2016, has dominated national news in recent weeks. Following this, a second victim of a fatal allergic reaction to a Pret a Manger product had been identified today as 42-year-old Celia Marsh from Wiltshire, who died in December 2017.

In Ednan-Laperouse’s case, the teenager purchased a Pret a Manger baguette with sesame baked into the bread, sold in packaging which did not include an allergen warning. This lack of warning reassured Natasha that the product would not contain sesame, to which she was allergic. In the second reported case, Celia Marsh, who was allergic to milk products, purchased a flatbread from a Pret a Manger outlet in Bath which was labelled as dairy-free, but was later revealed to contain a dairy protein.

Deaths caused by products bought from such a large, chain food business have shocked consumers, and understandably, raised concerns over whether current legislation on allergen management is adequate at keeping customers and business owners safe. Whether these incidents have been caused by food manufacturers, suppliers or kitchen staff, it is crucial that food businesses do all they can to keep customers safe from ingredients that have the potential to cause serious reactions and, in some cases, death.

Current law:

Changes to allergen law came into place in December 2014, affecting the labelling of allergens in packaged food and making it mandatory for caterers to be able to inform customers which of the 14 main allergens are present in the food they are selling. The legislation states that labelling must emphasise allergens in the list of ingredients by printing the name of the allergen in bold, underlined or some other easily-identified format. Notices on the premises or unit are also required to inform customers that allergens may be present in the food being sold and for them to seek advice from a member of staff if they have a food allergy.

The 14 main allergens are:

• Cereal containing gluten
• Peanuts
• Nuts
• Milk
• Soya
• Mustard
• Lupin
• Eggs
• Fish
• Crustaceans
• Molluscs
• Sesame seeds
• Celery
• Sulphur dioxide

Take action to protect your customers:

As a food business owner, you will be asked to prove that you are compliant with food allergen law during an inspection by an environmental health officer or trading standards officer. Ensure your allergen management is irrefutable by executing the following:

Keep customers informed.

Place your NCASS Allergen sticker and further posters on your unit or premises in a clear, easy-to-read position to inform customers that they should ask a member of staff about allergens if they have a food allergy.

Signpost allergens on your menu by including them under the name of each product, e.g. Tuna Salad (contains celery, eggs, fish, milk, mustard).

Train staff adequately.
You and your staff can no longer state that you do not know whether a dish contains any of the 14 major allergens, or that it may contain allergens. Allergen information must be clear, legible and accessible to staff, so that they can answer any questions posed by a customer.

An allergen information sheet can be downloaded here.
Use the sheet to highlight allergens in each of your dishes and have staff refer to this when a customer has a query. Keep it in an easy-to-reach place and train all staff to ensure they know how to respond to customer allergen queries, whether that is to refer to the sheet or ask a chef or senior staff member. Staff should also be trained on how to sensitively inform a customer that they cannot guarantee food is free from allergens and that they should therefore not purchase a particular product.

Prevent cross contamination.

When storing and preparing ingredients, the risk of cross contamination must be assessed and prevented. This means that any utensils or equipment used to prepare or cook allergenic foods cannot be used to prepare or cook foods which will be labelled as non-allergenic unless adequately cleaned between use.

Wherever possible, store allergenic ingredients in separate, sealed containers from non-allergenic food-stuffs and ensure these containers are clearly labelled. All staff who handle food should be aware of allergen cross contamination.

Record allergen information.

When you’re preparing a dish, think through all the ingredients that you use in your recipe, and then carefully record them all.

To help to identify which dishes contain allergens:

• Make sure that your kitchen staff use the same recipes every time or make a record if a recipe changes or an ingredient is substituted.
• Keep a copy of the ingredient information on labels of pre-packed foods like sauces, desserts etc.
• Keep ingredients in the original containers where possible or keep a copy of the labelling information in a central place (either on paper or stored electronically).
• Ensure that containers are clearly labelled, for ingredients which are delivered in bulk, and then transferred or stored in smaller containers.
• Ensure that the allergen information is kept up to date (for example, if recipes are changed or products substituted).
• Always check deliveries to make sure that you’ve got what you ordered. Ensure that the relevant labelling information is provided with the order.
• Make sure that any records are updated, to help trace back to the source of your information.
• Check that the food delivered is the same brand that is normally used, as different brands might have different ingredients.

For more information:

Visit the NCASS Allergen Hub here.

Read more about allergen legislation on the FSA website.

The NCASS Due Diligence System has a full Food Allergy and Intolerance Policy to support the managment of food safety in your business. All NCASS members receive the Due Diligence System free with membership.

Want to know more about how NCASS Membership can support the safety and legality of your business? Click here.

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