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With the festive season almost upon us, and as you prepare to cater for larger numbers of customers than usual, it is vital that you and your staff are vigilant when it comes to allergen information.

 

Christmas is a lucrative period for operators, however, it can be a difficult time for those who live with a food allergy or intolerance. Over 2 million people in the UK have a food allergy, and an estimated 1 in 100 people suffer with coeliac disease*. And with new research coming to light from the Food Standards Agency’s ASK campaign revealing that over half of young people with a food allergy or intolerance have avoided eating out due to their condition, food businesses are being encouraged to be up front about the provision of accurate allergen information to this vulnerable group.

“Living with a food allergy or intolerance is not easy and can have fatal consequences,”said Heather Hancock, Food Standards Agency (FSA) chairman. “We’ve seen real progress in how food businesses approach customers with allergies, however, we are encouraging them to make it easier for everyone to ask the question, speak up and help keep those at risk safe.”

Here’s how you can make sure that customer awareness and staff knowledge is faultless during this busy period.

A gentle reminder

All staff should be trained and prepared to answer any customer queries regarding allergens and gluten-free dishes. However, a gentle reminder during your daily staff briefing won’t do any harm! This will also give staff the opportunity to ask any questions if they are unsure. The FSA has a variety of posters that make allergy awareness simple to understand and part of the daily service, so print and display around the kitchen or front of house.

What to do

•The festive period is a frantic time for everyone. However, taking an extra minute to double check could stop unnecessary stress in the long term.

•Before taking orders, offer information regarding allergens to the table -knowing your facts about the ingredients in dishes will give customers confidence in your establishment and the food they are ordering.

•Once a customer has ordered, double check that no one has an allergy or food intolerance. If an ordered dish contains a key allergy ingredient (such as nuts) notify the customer to make sure they are aware of this, just in case they have missed it.

•If a particular dish has an ingredient that could cause an allergic reaction, the chef should brief waiting staff before service begins and also flag it up to waiting staff when these dishes are ordered.

Be clear

Highlight dishes on your menu that contain allergenic ingredients using different warning icons customers can understand and refer to at a glance. Provide a separate menu for gluten-free diners and ensure your drinks and side dish menus are highlighted too.

Information on allergenic ingredients must be either:

•Written up front (for example on a menu or menu board) without the customer having to ask for it

•Signposted to show where it can be found or obtained

•Signposted to say that information can be obtained orally from a member of staff

•Provided orally – in this case, this must be consistent and verifiable (i.e. a business must have processes in place to capture information from recipes or ingredients lists from products bought in, and make this available to staff)

Sources: food.gov.uk, Coeliac UK, FSA in partnership with Allergy UK & Anaphylaxis Campaign, easy to ASK campaign

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