Food Allergy Awareness
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Food allergies are a growing concern for both consumers and purveyors. A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system reacts abnormally to certain food proteins. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and in some cases, even life-threatening. As a result, it is crucial for those in the food industry to understand food allergies, be aware of allergenic ingredients, and take appropriate measures to keep food safe for all customers.
In this article, we will discuss the importance of food allergy awareness, explore the symptoms and outcomes of allergies, and explain why proper training is essential.
Table of contents
What is a Food Allergy?
An allergy is an abnormal immune system response to a typically harmless substance, such as pollen, dust mites, or food proteins. In the case of food allergies, the immune system mistakes a food protein as a threat, triggering an allergic reaction. Common food allergens include peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, milk, eggs, soy, and wheat.
How Allergies Affect the Human Body
When an individual with a food allergy ingests an allergenic ingredient, their immune system releases histamine and other chemicals, leading to various symptoms. These symptoms can manifest in different ways, such as:
- Skin reactions: itching, redness or swelling.
- Respiratory symptoms: sneezing, nasal congestion, coughing, or wheezing.
- Digestive issues: nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, or abdominal pain.
- Cardiovascular symptoms: dizziness, light headedness, or a drop in blood pressure.
In severe cases, an individual may experience anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction characterised by difficulty breathing, rapid or weak pulse, and a sudden drop in blood pressure. Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical attention and can be fatal if left untreated.
The Importance of Training
Proper training is essential for staff working in food establishments and food manufacturing facilities to understand the seriousness of food allergies and the potential consequences of an allergic reaction. Training helps staff:
- Identify allergenic ingredients in food products.
- Implement appropriate measures to prevent cross-contamination.
- Communicate effectively with customers about allergens and ingredient information.
- Respond appropriately to allergy-related incidents.
Training not only safeguards the health of customers but also helps food establishments comply with legal requirements and avoid potential lawsuits.
Legislation: EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (2014)
The 2014 EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation requires food businesses to provide allergen information on both prepacked and non-prepacked foods. In the UK, this legislation is enforced by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
Under this regulation, food businesses must clearly and accurately inform customers about the presence of any of the 14 major allergens in their products. These allergens include:
- Cereals containing gluten (such as wheat, rye, barley, and oats)
- Crustaceans (e.g., prawns, crabs, and lobsters)
- Lupin (a legume used in some flour and baked goods)
- Molluscs (e.g., mussels, oysters, and snails)
- Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts)
- Sesame seeds
- Sulphur dioxide and sulphites (at concentrations greater than 10 mg/kg or 10 mg/L)
Failure to comply with these regulations can result in significant fines and damage to a food business’s reputation.
Natasha’s Law: The Food Information (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2019
In 2019, the UK government introduced “Natasha’s Law” in response to the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who suffered a fatal allergic reaction after consuming a sandwich containing sesame seeds. This new legislation mandates that all prepacked foods for direct sale (PPDS) must clearly display a full list of ingredients, with allergenic ingredients emphasised.
Natasha’s Law applies to food establishments that produce and package food on the same premises where it is sold, such as cafés, bakeries, and sandwich shops. The legislation aims to protect consumers with food allergies by ensuring they have access to accurate and transparent ingredient information.
What Are Allergenic Ingredients?
Allergenic ingredients are food substances that can trigger an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals. As previously mentioned, there are 14 major allergens recognised by UK legislation. These allergens must be clearly labelled on food packaging, and information about their presence must be provided for non-prepacked foods.
It is important for food establishments and manufacturers to be aware of these allergenic ingredients, as even small amounts can cause severe allergic reactions in some individuals.
How to Keep Food Safe
To minimise the risk of allergen-related incidents, food businesses should implement strict procedures for handling, preparing, and serving food. Key steps include:
- Education: Ensure all staff receive appropriate training on food allergies, allergen management, and the legal requirements for labelling and providing allergen information.
- Ingredient management: Maintain up-to-date information on ingredients and their sources, and regularly review supplier documentation to confirm allergen status.
- Cross-contamination prevention: Establish dedicated preparation areas and equipment for allergen-free foods and enforce rigorous cleaning protocols to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
- Communication: Provide clear, accurate allergen information to customers through menu labelling, signage, and verbal communication. Encourage staff to ask customers about their dietary requirements and to inform them of potential allergen risks.
- Incident management: Develop a clear plan for responding to allergy-related incidents, including staff training on the use of adrenaline auto-injectors (e.g., EpiPen) and emergency procedures.
Food Allergy Awareness Training
Food allergy awareness is essential for protecting the health and well-being of consumers, as well as for maintaining compliance with UK legislation. By understanding food allergies, their symptoms, and the risks they pose, food establishments and manufacturers can better serve their customers and create a safer dining environment.
Investing in staff training, implementing strict allergen management procedures, and adhering to the 2014 EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation and Natasha’s Law can help food businesses demonstrate their commitment to food safety and customer care. In doing so, they not only protect their customers but also safeguard their reputation and business viability. This is where we at Chris Garland training can help, we offer a range of food safety courses including Level 2 Award in Food Allergy Awareness and Level 3 Award in Food Allergy Management for Managers and Supervisors. Get in touch if you have a specific requirement not listed on our course page and we will do all we can to accommodate your requirements.