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Allergens a key concern for food businesses according to findings

by Sophie Haigh | Dec 17, 2019
We know allergens can be daunting for a food business. With all the recent press surrounding the large chains getting it so disastrously wrong, even the most competent and knowledgeable business owner will often breathe a sigh of relief when someone with an allergy has dined with them and left the premises having had no bad effects. It’s only human nature to worry that you may have unintentionally harmed a customer. 
With sound training behind you and regular communication with team members however, your food business can get past the hurdles that come with allergens and feel confident that the food you’re serving is completely safe for a customer.

Staff lack confidence to inform customers
Only a third of employers are relatively confident in their allergen procedures, according to new research by hospitality and restaurant software specialist, Fourth
Some 68% of employees say they need more information and a quarter of more than 500 out-of-home food workers are not confident about advising customers with serious allergens. 
One in six regular employees said they didn’t receive regular training and 58% worried about customers asking if food contained allergens. Staggeringly, only 40% could name the top 14 allergens listed by the Food Standards Agency
In contrast, 73% of 1,000 consumers questioned said they had not been asked about allergens on their last trip to a restaurant and 89% felt that operators needed to have a better understanding of allergen procedures. 
The findings will likely come as a worry to many food businesses following the deaths of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse and most recently, Owen Carey, who died after unknowingly eating buttermilk at Byron Burger. Both families have petitioned for better food labelling when eating out and this year, Parliament passed ‘Natasha’s Law,’ requiring food businesses to feature a full list of ingredients on pre-packaged food items made on site by 2021 - click here for more information.

What does the law currently state?
Currently, businesses who directly sell food to customers (restaurants, pubs, mobile caterers) must legally provide allergen information in writing by either:
* Putting full allergen information on a menu, chalkboard or in an information pack 
* Placing a written notice in a clearly visible position explaining how customers can obtain this information - for example by speaking to a member of staff.
As mentioned, as of 2021, any pre-packaged food sold will require a full list of ingredients on labelling and there are separate laws for buffets and labelling food as ‘free-from’ or gluten free. Click here to access more information via the Food Standards Agency. 

Where can I go for help?
Allergies are serious and sadly, about 10 people die each year from food-induced anaphylaxis. There are also around 1,500 asthma deaths, some of which might be triggered by food allergy. In an industry where so many customers are putting their trust in our hands when it comes to allergens, making a tiny mistake could be life-threatening for the consumer and catastrophic for your business. 
As scary as it might sound, there are many places you can go for help or advice. The NCASS Allergen Hub is a great place to start and features an allergen toolkit, a downloadable allergen information table ready for you to fill in, more information on the 14 allergens, labelling guidance and more. The NCASS account managers are also on the other end of the phone if you need any assistance. 
Don’t forget, your allergen information table should be kept up-to-date and in an area where you and your staff can easily source it. Everyone on your premises must know what to do if a customer enquires about allergens (staff training is covered in the toolkit - click here to source it
Remember, it’s important to take your time when a customer asks about allergens and not panic. Please use all of our free information to give you the peace of mind that you are keeping both your customers and your business free from harm. 
Have an allergen related question? Call the NCASS team on 0121 603 2524 or send us a message here.


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