Helping operators become more confident in effective allergen management

13 June, 2022
Sian Collins, MenuIQ

Foodservice businesses across the UK are under increasing pressure to ensure they are providing accurate information about the food (and drinks) they are serving to ensure their customers have the information they need in order to make safe and informed food choices. 

Several allergy-related incidents in restaurants have been in the press recently which has only further increased public scrutiny of foodservice operators, creating an even greater need for business owners to take allergy management seriously.

Regency Purchasing Group works with over 3,800 businesses including hundreds of foodservice operators across the UK, as well as owning and operating a portfolio of their own hospitality businesses. Regency’s recent member research has highlighted the fact that foodservice operators are becoming increasingly anxious about their responsibilities when it comes to allergen management and food safety compliance, especially with the introduction of new laws and regulations.

Concerns included uncertainty about new food safety regulations, lack of confidence in effective allergen management, questions relating to acceptable due diligence and protection from liability and complexities when it comes to communicating accurate information to customers and training staff.

Food allergies are not food preferences

It’s essential that all operators have effective allergen management procedures in place to protect their customers – and their businesses.

In the UK, approximately two million people are thought to be living with a food allergy and this number has been on the rise for the past 30 years. According to a World Health Organisation study, around 4% of adults are allergic to at least one food, and the number is closer to 6% for children.

To ensure compliance, operators must be able to demonstrate procedures in place to identify and control food allergens within their menus and to accurately communicate this information to their staff and customers.

Understanding food safety laws and legislations

In order to effectively manage allergens within a foodservice business, operators must first understand the laws and legislations that apply.

While it’s the customer’s responsibility to communicate their allergy to operators, it’s the operator’s responsibility to accurately communicate allergen risks (in line with HACCP principles); which put simply, means confidently tracking the ingredients used in all dishes.

After the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, a teenager who suffered an allergic reaction after eating a baguette from Pret A Manger containing undeclared sesame seeds, Natasha’s Law was introduced requiring food businesses serving pre-packed food for direct sale (PPDS) to include a full ingredient list on the packaging, with 14 key allergens emphasised.

In addition to this, larger foodservice businesses with over 250 employees, are now required to include calorie counts on their menus. The UK government is also encouraging smaller businesses to adopt calorie labelling as part of its drive to improve the nation’s health and tackle obesity.

14 common food allergens

The EU and UK legislation recognise the following 14 common food allergens:

  • Celery
  • Cereal (Gluten)
  • Crustaceans
  • Egg
  • Fish
  • Lupin
  • Peanuts
  • Soya Beans
  • Cow Milk
  • Molluscs
  • Mustard
  • Tree Nuts
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Sulphur Dioxide (Sulphites)

The risks of manual allergen management

Manually managing menu ingredients and allergens is possible, but as with all manual processes, there’s huge opportunity for error and information can quickly become out of date.

Manual allergen management involves spot checking product labels to ensure ingredients haven’t changed since the previous delivery – and the only way to ensure accuracy is to check the label of every product, in every delivery; a task that is simply impossible.

What’s more, with ever-increasing ingredient and production costs, plus issues with product availability, now more than ever, manufacturers are sourcing alternative ingredients and substituting products. This is making keeping track of allergens even more time-consuming and complicated.

How technology can help effectively manage allergens

Allergen management technology helps businesses to ensure compliance and reduce (and hopefully eliminate) allergy incidents within foodservice outlets.

Advanced allergen management software like MenuIQ receives real-time data direct from suppliers, notifying users the moment a product ingredient changes. Technology in the kitchen helps operators save time, minimise mistakes and stay compliant with laws and regulations.

With the right allergen management system in place, business owners are not just protecting their business and customers; they’re also building an allergy-friendly brand gaining trust, loyalty and repeat visits from allergy sufferers.

For help and advice on managing allergens within your business, contact allergen management experts, MenuIQ: / +44 (0)1934 646100.

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