According to the Food Standards Agency, every year, about 10 people die in the UK as a result of an allergic reaction to food, and many more are hospitalised . Severe allergic reactions are most commonly caused by the following foods, known as the ‘big 8’:
- peanuts (also known as groundnuts)
- nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts
- sesame seeds
Some people avoid certain types of foods because of food intolerance. About 1 person in 100 has an intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley (sometimes oats), because they have coeliac disease. Other people need to avoid lactose, found in milk.
European Law (General Food Law Regulation 178/2002) prohibits ‘unsafe’ food being put onto the market, so it’s important for you and your staff to be able to inform customers of the ingredients used in a meal, if asked. In deciding whether a food is ‘unsafe’, the information a business provides to its customers in the form of staff comments and menu descriptions is taken into account. Some foods may be regarded as ‘unsafe’ to people with food allergies. This means that businesses must give people with food allergies accurate information about the ingredients in their food.
Here is some useful advice from Allergy UK’s ‘Caterer’s Guide to Severe Food Allergies’
- Ensure there is always a nominated person on duty who knows, or can find out, the ingredients of all dishes.
- Ask suppliers to provide accurate written details about all ingredients, including any planned changes.
- Try to avoid the indiscriminate use of nuts, eg powdered nuts as a garnish, unless this is an essential part of the recipe.
- If a dish is meant to contain nuts, make sure this is reflected in the name: eg Nut & Carrot Salad.
- Remember that salad oil may be derived from nut oil.
- If possible, keep certain preparation areas designated as nut-free areas.
- Put up a prominent sign encouraging people with allergies to question staff.
- Include a prominent statement on the menu encouraging customers with severe allergies to question staff.
For example, this could state: ‘Some of our dishes contain nuts. If you are allergic to nuts, please, ask staff to suggest a nut-free meal’.
- Try to ensure that where a dish contains potent allergens – particularly nuts – this is indicated in some way on the menu. Some restaurants adopt a circled ‘N’.
- Organise a training session on allergies for your staff. Make sure that all new staff members are aware of the serious allergies.