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Despite the introduction of food allergen legislation in 2014, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has found that thousands of consumers have since suffered allergic reactions while dining out, with around 1 in 4 affected. Of these, 20% end up being admitted to hospital.

Although more stringent regulations and greater awareness have led to big strides in the safety of allergic customers there is still work to be done. Understanding more about the risks and dangers is a vital first step to ensure that this never happens on your doorstep.

What is an allergic reaction?

An allergic reaction can vary in nature from person to person: from a rash to symptoms of food poisoning, or more seriously anaphylactic shock, which in the most severe cases can be fatal. In the eyes of the law, incorrectly labelling menu items is gross negligence and can carry a charge of manslaughter.

As the number of people who suffer from allergies has increased over the last decade it has become increasingly important for staff to receive a proper education in food allergens.

Letter of the law

Regulators say that businesses are required to provide full information about food allergens contained in menu items. It is crucial that this is done in a consistent and clear way or a business may be found in violation. The regulations apply to all establishments in the food service industry; this includes manufacturers and producers of food, as well as retailers, caterers and food importers.

Fourteen allergens must be particularly clear to customers on any menu:

• Tree nuts
• Peanuts
• Sulphur dioxide
• Mustard
• Eggs
• Milk
• Fish
• Crustaceans
• Molluscs
• Celery
• Cereals containing gluten
• Soya
• Sesame
• Lupin

Make it clear for your customers

Allergens must be identified clearly on food packaging in a font that stands out. Any risk of cross-contamination and it is a good idea to volunteer this information: simply a “Might contain X” warning can drastically improve the safety of a highly allergic customer.

Ensure your staff are well-informed

This protects not just the customer, but the business and staff also. It is recommended you train all staff who handle and serve food in allergen awareness, in order to improve their understanding of the dangers food allergens hold as well as the procedure for informing customers.

Photo: Peanuts by manoftaste.de licensed under Creative Commons 4.0