Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Allergy Suffering - How to avoid potentially fatal mistakes with food allergens

Nowadays there is certainly more awareness of people with food allergies and also an increase in available ingredients without risk of any allergens included and therefore it follows that more and more food business opt to cater for these people and offer a menu with allergen-free choices.

Chances are if you specialize in catering for this demographic then you already have strict controls in place to avoid any risk of contamination between allergen-free foods and how they are prepared or stored. A gluten free burger for example is not just a deconstructed burger minus the bun....all of the ingredients need to be guaranteed that they have been prepared and stored away from any contaminants so that you can serve the food safely and without risk to the customer.

Allergens are substances which cause the body’s immune system to respond, sometimes in severe ways. When this is severe it can result in anaphylactic shock and sometimes even death.
Symptoms can include severe asthma, swelling of the throat and mouth and therefore difficulty in swallowing, redness of the skin, nausea and sickness and eventually collapse.

Allergenic foods include some of the following: any nuts - particularly peanuts; milk based products; shellfish; cereal containing gluten and celery/celeriac. These are just some foods where allergenic controls must be considered and put into practice. There are three key points for allergenic controls – communication methods; contamination prevention and cleaning:

1. Communication Methods
Clear labelling on all food products
Menu description of any allergenic product
Knowledge of products
All staff suitably trained

2. Contamination Prevention
Approved suppliers
Allergenic foods kept separate from other foods
Use separate preparation areas and utensils
If any other food products become contaminated destroy straight away.

3. Cleaning to prevent Allergenic Cross-Contamination
Food handler hand washing before and after preparation
Thorough cleaning of work surfaces and utensils before and after preparation

Labelling, storing, preparation, handling and training are interrelated in identifying any risks prior to preparing or handling allergen foods. You cannot simply pay attention to just labelling any allergenic foods. The whole process needs to be backed and supported by all staff so that there is no risk to the consumer. Anything less than this is negligent and can lose you valuable custom; so if you are not prepared to handle the detail then it certainly isn’t something you should risk including in your menu.