Ask any foodservice leader what keeps him or her awake at night, and allergens will be near the top of the list. Food allergen management allows very little margin for error, and the consequences of even a relatively minor failure can be fatal. Robust procedures are pivotal. But how can you be sure kitchen and service teams across multiple locations are always following the correct processes?The reality is that pen-and-paper reporting may not be enough to minimise the risk. Checklists get lost and spoiled, new staff arrive without the immediate guidance they need, and changes to food handling procedures are hard to roll out consistently. What’s more, managers are often several steps removed from the frontline sources of risk. They may not be aware of poor practice until they begin ploughing through monthly reports or travelling around to visit sites in person.
Risks multiply wherever there are knowledge gaps. This is why foodservice operators are turning to digital platforms that deliver real-time guidance to employees, improve management visibility of day-to-day operations and save time spent on manual auditing and reporting.
What does food allergen management mean for foodservice businesses?
In recent years, food allergen management has become a key concern for any business serving food, with an increasing number of hospital admissions for anaphylaxis, tighter regulation and greater public awareness.
A series of well-publicised cases have underlined the need for businesses to take every possible precaution. And this applies at all stages of the foodservice industry, from sourcing ingredients to food preparation, storage, cooking and serving.
One health and safety leader of a large-scale foodservice business told us recently that food allergen management was one of his most pressing concerns, particularly since the introduction of Natasha’s Law in the UK. Effective from October 2021, the new law applies to allergen labelling on prepacked food for direct sale (PPDS)
Food retail and catering businesses must provide allergen information and follow labelling rules, both of which are defined by food law.
There are two primary obligations:
- Provide allergen information to the consumer for prepacked and non-prepacked food and drink.
- Handle and manage food allergens effectively in food preparation.
In the UK, food law requires any ingredients from a list of 14 allergens to be declared, although it is acknowledged that consumers may be allergic or intolerant to other ingredients. The 14 listed allergens include celery, cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, milk, mustard and tree nuts.
The Food Standards Agency’s Allergen Information Rules (EU FIC) mean additional checks, rigorous cleaning regimes and more time-consuming paperwork, all of which can put extra strain on already-stretched staff resources.
The pressure to comply with the EU FIC legislation also creates uncertainty: do staff understand what it means, and do they complete all the required checks to ensure that the regulated ingredients are managed safely? Poor management of allergens, from cross-contamination to inaccurate labelling in packages, can put lives at risk and pose a serious threat to a business's reputation and profitability.
What are the critical requirements of food allergen management?
Several important factors contribute to effective food allergen management.
- Planning: Understanding legal requirements and risk areas are the crucial foundations of food allergen management for foodservice operators. A food allergen risk assessment should be carried out. This enables managers to establish and roll out a comprehensive plan for minimising food allergen risks.
- Labelling: It is incumbent upon food businesses to provide allergen information whether food is prepacked, prepacked for direct sale or loose (non-prepacked). For many food service businesses, written details can be provided on a menu, website, chalkboard or information pack and used to formally back up conversations with customers.
- Training: One of the most important elements of food allergen management is that staff are trained and understand their responsibilities. Understanding food allergen risk and symptoms is an essential starting point. High staff turnover affecting food businesses makes it even more important to ensure guidance is clear, comprehensive, easily accessible, regularly reviewed and updated as required.
- Procedures: Preventing contamination is vital, and systems need to be in place and understood by staff. Procedures for food allergen management should include prevention of cross-contamination, guidance on dealing with customer questions and rigorous reporting frameworks.
How does technology support food allergen management?
A well-established food allergen management routine provides peace of mind, especially in large or highly-distributed food businesses that deal with a wide range of potential allergens.
The pitfalls of paperwork are well known. Instead, businesses are turning to digital assistants as a more effective tool for food allergen management. Digital assistants deliver step-by-step guidance to staff via a mobile device. The Checkit platform prompts employees to conduct safety checks at predetermined times in a given location – with QR code scanning and automatic time stamps to confirm details.
Checkit’s digital assistant then guides the employee on precisely what they need to do and captures the activity in real-time to provide supervisors with a complete view of where, when, how and by whom a procedure was carried out.
Data is streamed to real-time dashboards to enable managers to analyse compliance as it happens and quickly compile reports. Discrepancies can be addressed immediately and any procedural weaknesses solved with targeted training initiatives.
The Checkit platform is designed to strengthen adherence to food allergen management procedures and generate a digital audit trail for proof of compliance.
Ready to find out more?