We all know the importance of nut-allergy awareness, but did you know a whole range of other allergies have been on the rise since the 1950s? In developed countries across the globe, food allergies are noticeably on the up. Peanut allergies alone trebled in the last twelve years. Around 5% of the adult population are lactose intolerant and there are an increasing number of foods being flagged as newly recognised allergens — from fish and eggs to some fruits and vegetables.
If this seems intimidating as a caterer, don’t panic. Allergies need to be taken seriously, as reactions can be very serious. But with the right training on handling ingredients and preparing meals, you’ll be all set to offer a safe service.
Key allergens to look out for
EU legislation now recognises 14 foods as being the key causes of allergic reactions across Europe. That means, by law, large and small catering businesses alike need to tell customers if they’re serving food that contains any of the below ingredients:
Cereals containing gluten (including wheat, rye, barley and oats)
Crustaceans (think prawns, crabs and lobsters)
Lupin (these are beans, sometimes served in flour form)
Molluscs (that includes food such as mussels and oysters)
Tree nuts (many nuts fall into this category, including almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts)
Soybeans (remember: these are commonly served in the form of soymilk)
Sulphur dioxide and sulphites (if the concentration is more than ten parts per million)
If any of your dishes contain these ingredients, you’ll need to make your customers aware. Don’t forget to check additives for these ingredients, too — as well as the products used to process your ingredients. For example, dried fruit is sometimes preserved using sulphites, so make sure you check with your suppliers to get the full background on how and where they prepare their food.
What’s your responsibility?
Selling safe food is a legal requirement, and that includes stocking food that’s allergen free or clearly labelled as containing allergens; this applies to pre-packed and non-pre-packed food and drink.
It’s essential that everyone working with food and drink at your business is trained in handling allergy information requests from customers, ensuring the right dishes reach the right people while avoiding cross-contamination. Keep a copy of all recipes on file, so staff can easily see how each dish is made and check for allergens if customers ask.
Get studious, and speak up
If you’d like more guidance on protecting your customers and your business against allergens, the government's here to help. Check their website for a free training course for catering businesses — it offers essential information on food allergens and allergen information rules: https://allergytraining.food.gov.uk/.