Allergens in food: Russian roulette for customers?

Allergens, a 14-barrel gun ready to fire at any moment.

Many of the foods we consume on a day-to-day basis contain allergens. Many of us consume them without a moment’s thought, but for some the risks of consuming food containing allergenic ingredients are potentially deadly.  

Allergens, allergies, and allergic reactions often make the news. Often in tragic circumstances as a member of the public has suffered either catastrophic injury or worse following the consumption of an allergenic ingredient.

Articles on such instances often feature hard-hitting quotes from friends, family and industry experts, or snippets of legal judgements, but with no context or guidance as to the steps you can take to protect not only yourself and your business, but most importantly customers to exposure to allergens.

The UK has recently been the source of high-profile worldwide news stories regarding allergens. There have been high profile instances featuring well-known high street brands and an October court case that resulted in custodial sentences for the two owners of a Manchester takeaway.

The common theme has been undeclared allergens.

In the Manchester takeaway case, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has issued a statement describing the convictions as a clear message to food businesses of the consequences of not providing accurate allergen information.

The sentiments are fair. But how do you ensure that the food you produce is free of allergens or clearly labelled as containing allergenic ingredients? 

A good starting point would be to fully understand all of the ingredients that are used in your products. Are your suppliers held to strict allergen controls? Do they label ingredients clearly? Are you aware of their manufacturing processes and any potential exposure to allergens? Do they provide regular and timely updates on all changes to ingredients?

Closer to home there are steps that can be taken from the very basics of good food safety and hygiene and the proper thorough cleaning of work stations to safe, clearly labelled storage, utilising colour-coded utensils and using separate cleaning supplies to avoid cross-contamination.

Perhaps, most importantly, the human element – how well trained and knowledgeable are your staff when it comes to allergen control? Are they confident and compliant when managing ingredient controls and procedures? Do they understand the potential seriousness of allergic reactions?

Keeping a record of your allergen controls is vital. Not only for you when it comes to audits and inspections, but for your customers when it comes to their well-being.

At Highfield we currently offer two regulated qualifications that provide employers and employees with the knowledge to improve safety and implement effective allergen controls. The Highfield Level 2 Award in Allergen Awareness and Control in Catering (RQF) is ideal for front-line staff and those involved in the preparation of food. We also offer the Highfield Level 3 Award in Allergen Management in Catering (RQF), which is ideal for managers of a catering business.

We also have an interactive e-learning course that offers an ‘Introduction to Allergens’ and is ideal for staff who are involved in food production or food handling roles whether in catering, retail or manufacturing.

If you’d like more information on how our qualifications, training materials or e-learning may help you understand allergens more clearly, please contact us today.

Call 0845 226 0350/01302 363277 or email and a member of our team will explain how we can help.



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