Lead the way

10/03/2016 - 07:32
The UK has a major opportunity to become the world leader in food allergen customer care, according to Julian Edwards of Allergen Accreditation.

The UK already has the best chefs in the world, and there is no international cuisine that cannot be found in our cities and towns.

Now, we have another opportunity across these green and pleasant lands to secure another global accolade – this is to become world leaders in how we manage food allergens, and how we serve people with allergies in our schools, hospitals, workplaces, care homes, pubs and restaurants.

To do this we must agree on a common professional standard. The EU Food Information for Consumers (FIC) regulation is designed to ensure that all intentional ingredients that are allergens be made clear to customers.

This is a fantastic and long-awaited set of laws to protect consumers. Manufacturers have done this for many years, and tales of consumers checking every label are ubiquitous as more consumers need to know what’s in the food and drink they purchase.

More consumers are also questioning the ‘May contain’ label, which is the result of the processor or manufacturer identifying through their risk assessment procedures that an unintentional allergen has come into contact with the dish or drink being manufactured.

Let’s face it, in a busy factory or even a busy commercial kitchen, some allergens are going to come into contact with other ingredients.

This is perfectly safe from a food hygiene sense but not so good for the person with an allergy to that ingredient, though they may be satisfied in the knowledge that the supplier has advised them accordingly for their own protection.

What does this mean for us if we want to position ourselves as world leaders in food allergen customer excellence?

It means we look at our manufacturing and kitchen management practices, and identify where and when allergens do cross contact unintentionally and mark these allergens on our labels, menus and/or allergen matrices.

We also manage our kitchens and risk-assess the safe passage of foods and beverages, and we do this for allergenic ingredients also.

However, it does not mean we simply add a statement to our menus, the equivalent of ‘As all ingredients are on top of each other in the kitchen, we cannot guarantee any foods may or may not contain the allergenic ingredient you’re allergic to’.

If we did, and to be on the safe side, we might as well add ‘Some of our foods may contain campylobacter and E Coli’.

Is this easier said than done? Let’s begin with manufacturers who we buy from. Ask them to support any ‘may contain’ or ‘made in a factory with…’  statements with the written risk assessments that arrived at this declaration.

Likewise, in a busy kitchen, the chef and management team need to identify their food allergen Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) and assess where allergens do come into contact.

On the flip side, when we carefully manage the assembly and cooking of a dish, and can identify no cross-contact with any non-recipe allergens, when we have analysed all manufacturer allergen data, and when we have operated our full food and allergen safety management principles, then we can be confident that the dish that has been prepared only contains exactly what it’s meant to.

Why is this so important? Well, we cannot mislead customers. We must declare allergenic ingredients verbally and back this up in writing.

If we simply stated that all our food may contain any one of the 14 allergens, we are misleading them if it turns out it doesn’t. Likewise, being ignorant of ‘May contain’ statements and not passing this information on to the customer is also misleading.

To attain global leadership in food allergen customer excellence, we need to ensure full allergen disclosure.

Combining the EU law and full disclosure ensures customers will be satisfied that their health and safety is protected, and that the business you run is operating at the highest level of due diligence and is equally protected.

Businesses are benefitting from applying the principles of food allergen customer excellence. Contract caterers such as Eden (part of Interserve), Artizian, Independent Catering and Harbour & Jones have all had their food allergen systems verified independently, or are in the process, to ensure that they are EU FIC and Full Allergen Disclosure compliant.

Schools including Abbey Grange Academy in Leeds, Matthew Arnold in Oxfordshire, The Blue School in Somerset and Helenswood in Hastings have also shown a particular keenness to ensure their systems are correct and meet the needs of parents of children with allergies.

Universities that are tasked with feeding allergenic youngsters who may be away from home for the first time have also opted to test their systems. At Pemcat, Pembroke College, University of Cambridge, customers can access an allergy-free serving zone. Other universities are following suit.

Healthcare and catering training venues are equally dedicated to compliance, and making it known to clients and customers that they take allergen management seriously. A great example is the Clink Charity that trains people in foodservice and has venues in Cheshire, Cardiff, London and Surrey.

Catering businesses across all sectors are now considering having their allergen systems verified as the right way to obtain the confidence and recognition that they are meeting the industry best practice standards.

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