Statistics show a steep rise in the number of people suffering with allergies across the UK. According to Mintel 44% of British adults now suffer from at least one allergy, with one in 100 people being diagnosed as coeliac. Since December 2014, the law changed and means a business can now be fined if they do not comply to allergy legislation. With many allergy sufferers also calling for clearer information, what can you do to make sure that your kitchen is allergy aware and you don’t fall foul of food safety guidelines?
It is not exaggerating to say that being allergy aware in the kitchen is a matter of life or death. There have been a number of high-profile cases where failings in labelling, storing or preparing food for customers have resorted in devastating consequences.
It is one of the many reasons catering facilities are making sure they are allergy savvy and putting in place extra measures to reduce the risks. It is also proving a popular USP for businesses that are excelling in marketing to the growing population of allergy consumers looking for businesses that meet their needs.
It is one of the many reasons that large restaurant chains are looking to offer more choice and specific dietary menus to accommodate a rising number of individuals looking for allergy tolerant food options.
So how can you make sure you are allergy aware?
Being allergy aware is one of the greatest resources in making sure that your catering facility adequately serves customers with specialist dietary needs. Just as you would know how to adapt a product to provide a vegetarian or vegan alternative. Read up and stay aware of health concerns and developments for allergy requirements. By knowing how the allergens affect your customers you are in a better position to understand what they are looking for.
In 2014 strict EU guidelines meant that 14 of the top allergens, including gluten, eggs, soy, nuts and fish, now need to be clearly identified and labelled. All catering businesses need to keep recorded information on what is in their products. They must know what they have bought from suppliers and how their ingredients information is shared. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) enforcement officers could ask a member of staff to let them know where the allergy information is for a specific product so every item must be clearly labelled.
There are software programs that can help with calculating nutritional content and allergens in dishes which can help speed up the process.
Whatever way you do it though you need to be aware of, and record, every component in a dish and correctly store and label items to eliminate the risk of allergens being present.
Separate cooking areas
Certain allergies such as gluten and nuts can be triggered by trace amounts of product. So, it is essential to keep separate cooking areas and utensils for specific products to make sure that areas aren’t cross contaminated. For example, a wooden chopping board used for preparing bread couldn’t then be washed and used to prepare the gluten free items as you risk trace amounts being spread. Be aware of items that can and can’t be shared and make sure they are clearly defined. Colour coding of utensils, chopping boards and pans in separate areas will help to define preparation areas.
Compact cooking appliances can make it easier to have separate stations in a kitchen while not compromising on space.
Make sure you have adequate storage areas with separate areas for allergen products. Planning your kitchen layout effectively can help eliminate the risks by making sure that storage areas are in suitable places so always look for a catering equipment expert that is aware of what you need to be looking out for.
Your staff are one of your biggest assets. Make sure that they are fully trained to understand the procedures you put in place, their importance and what to do if a customer asks for more information. It can be time consuming but even if you can’t train everyone make sure that for every shift you have at least two staff who have the knowledge. Decide who they are going to be and make them the ‘allergy experts’ for your business. Provide back up information that staff can reach for if they need to check. Your staff are the face of your business and they need to have the skills to make sure that your customers are confident in their ability to prepare allergy aware products.
There are a number of companies that offer official training and accreditation to show that your company is allergy aware and fully trained and prepared to cope with allergen diets. Accreditation builds confidence for the consumer as it shows them that you take their allergy seriously and understand the consequences. Get it right and people with allergies will be loyal customers as they appreciate how difficult it can be. They will spread the word, and come back and eat there creating you a loyal customer base.
The Food Standards Agency states that “information about allergenic ingredients is mandatory and must be provided” on all foods whether pre-packaged or produced on site.
For restaurants and cafes where food is prepared and served the advice is equally as clear – “Allergen information must be provided for non-prepacked foods in written or oral formats with clear signposting to where consumers can obtain this information.”
The advice is there to help accommodate customers with food allergies and intolerances and provide clear guidelines for businesses on how they can achieve it. However, as numbers of allergy sufferers rise what more can be done?
A recent eating out survey showed that only 17% of diners with allergies or intolerances trusted front-of-house staff to give them reliable information.
If you are to win over the growing allergy aware consumer then there is a need to show that you are not only aware of dietary requirements but offering a fully transparent service which puts their needs first.
Get the basic rights and as the statistics show it is a very lucrative and much needed market to specialise in. The gluten-free market in 2017 reached £561 million, with the overall free-from market up a massive 40.1% to £806.1 million.
Adam Cattermole is the managing director at Midlands-based catering equipment specialists Cattermole Group. A family firm with over 70 years of experience which specialises in supporting the hospitality industry