Anaphylaxis awareness: safeguarding food allergy sufferers | Kitchen CUT

Consumers are increasingly conscious of the potential hazards of eating out, aware that operations that do not adhere to strict allergen management processes and alarmed this may cause an allergic reaction or even anaphylaxis, resulting in death.  We spoke to Grace Brocklehurst, the Information Manager at Anaphylaxis Campaign about raising anaphylaxis awareness amongst hospitality professionals, the risks of eating out and how the F&B industry can reassure customers that they are comprehensively and accurately informed about what they are eating….

Food allergic individuals must restrict their food choices and be constantly vigilant with allergen avoidance, therefore eating out is perceived as a risky activity.  All the forward planning, checking menus, asking questions about allergies and double checking again when their food arrives is only part of challenge when eating out. Food allergic consumers also must place trust in the food business and their staff. Unfortunately, some food businesses and staff lack the knowledge, confidence and importantly the empathy to assist food allergic consumers to safely eat out.

Compliance by food businesses with existing legislation relating to food allergens and food safety law is fundamental but the Anaphylaxis Campaign believe food businesses must develop a culture where all staff are considerate of food allergic consumers. This involves all staff being well informed about the legislation and internal policies that are in place to keep food allergic consumers safe and the risks of anaphylaxis.

A robust allergen policy

Primarily, a food business must identify what their polices are and what all their staff already know and to understand the challenges their business and staff face. A transient workforce, annual leave, sickness and language barriers are not an excuse, they are threat that a robust allergen policy must protect against. It is also important to have good governance and routinely review systems and processes.

Training and anaphylaxis awareness

Training and awareness underpin each and every step to making eating out safer for food allergic individuals. We believe all staff should receive training on food allergies which covers the legislation, business policy, where to find accurate allergen information, how to handle an allergen query correctly and empathically and who can assist them for more complex questions. We also believe a general understanding of allergies and the risks of anaphylaxis are important, including what to do in an emergency. The Anaphylaxis Campaign believes having at least one designated ‘expert’ whose understanding of food allergy, legislation and internal policies relating to food allergies has been developed further is a great way of putting food allergic consumers at the centre of what you do.

Front of house

Accessibility to accurate information is key to an allergic consumer experience when eating out. Food businesses should have clear visible signs that inform customers how to obtain allergen information. This should be a positive statement about your openness and ability to manage allergens to help build trust with the allergic consumer. We would also suggest considering a question around ‘do you have any food allergies?’ forming part of customer service.

Food preparation

Robust systems that assess risks are imperative for good allergen management. Systems must be in place to check the ingredient information for the product you are receiving in delivery, technology may have a role to play in this. Strategies must also be in place to address the risk in storage, such as placing major allergens in dedicated secure and labelled containers.

When something goes wrong

The Coroner investigating a recent fatality relating to anaphylaxis raised concerns about the food business’ management of near misses. A good working relationship with your local authority trading standards or environmental health team is an incredibly important aspect of good allergen management. If you do experience any accidents or near-misses report these to local authorities and conduct a root-cause analysis of the issues with any learning fed back into training and polices.

Anaphylaxis Campaign

A chef’s perspective

We asked Michelin starred chef John Wood, to comment on the suggestions made by Anaphylaxis Campaign and to explain how they can be implemented without disruption to staff, customers and profit.

“Hospitality businesses are always struggling to get staff both in terms of quantity and quality, resulting in a large turnover of people working in the industry. A growing number of hospitality staff are temporary, transient and use English as a second language.  This makes it extremely difficult to keep staff up to date and fully informed.  The only way to maintain/ train/ adjust your allergen details and provide staff with live, accurate information is to use a robust piece of supplier linked technology. Relying on individuals to manage something as serious as allergens is a gamble every day that many operations take. Many hospitality businesses count on the chef to continually and manually update allergens on menu items and to keep them up to date by reading packaging and having the knowledge of many hidden allergens. As recent tragedies have demonstrated, chefs are only human and mistakes will happen.

Technology reduces the risk of allergies and anaphylaxis, cuts down admin time and offers customers reassurance and it is the most reliant, consistent and accurate way to keep allergens controlled.”

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