If you work in food service then one of the major considerations you have to be aware of is customer allergies. When preparing and serving food, avoiding cross contamination between different food types in your restaurant kitchen is the best way to ensure that customer’s allergies are not triggered. But what are allergies exactly and which food allergens in particular do you need to take extra care with? Here’s our run-down of everything you need to know:
What is a Food Allergy?
A food allergy is more than a simple intolerance to certain types of foods, instead it tends to cause an intense and sometimes life-threatening reaction from the immune system to the proteins contained in certain foods. When the body perceives proteins as a threat it will release chemicals, beginning an allergic reaction that can range dramatically between somewhat milder and more severe bodily responses.
Mild responses might include sneezing, stuffy / runny nose, itchy / watery eyes, coughing, swelling, rashes, stomach cramps and diarrhoea. More severe responses on the other hand might include difficulty to breathe, swelling of lips, tongue or throat, hives, dizziness or vomiting. The most dangerous response of all, however, is anaphylactic shock which can lead to death and is caused by severe restricted breathing or a cardiac arrest.
The Damage They Do
In the UK every year about 10 people die as a result of a food allergy. On top of that many allergy sufferers often also have asthma, which means that they are more likely to suffer severe reactions to food. The yearly death toll of 15,000 for asthma sufferers, possibly includes a number of deaths that were onset by food allergies.
About 90% of all allergic reactions can be traced back to the below sources. It’s important to note that these allergens are not exclusive to your food offer but also your drinks offer. Make sure you take extra care with all these products:
The proteins in the egg white, or – albeit less frequently – in the yolk, are common causes of allergies.
Cow’s milk or products based on cow’s milk such as butter, cheese, cream, milk powders and yoghurt, contain proteins called whey or casein which commonly cause allergic reactions.
Nut allergies can be very severe and therefore tend to account for a proportionally higher number of the anaphylactic shock cases in the UK.
Without going into the technicalities of what is classified as a ‘real’ nut, peanut allergies are one of the most common nut allergies and can be pretty serious as they tend to be lifelong.
Tree nut allergies, which include cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecan nuts, pine nuts, pistachios and macadamia nuts, are also common. Disturbingly, being allergic to one nut makes you more inclined to an allergy in another type of nuts too.
Molluscs (including clams, mussels, whelks, oysters, snails and squid) and crustaceans (including prawns, crabs, lobster, crayfish) contain the protein tropomyosin which is thought to be the most common (although not the only) trigger for these types of allergies. These allergies tend to be quite severe and even the vapour of cooked shellfish has been known to cause an allergic reaction.
Fish allergies are tricky as they can in fact develop later in life – an uncommon phenomenon in the allergy world. They are caused by a different type of protein than other seafood allergies.
Wheat allergies can originate from one or more of the 27 allergens that have been identified in wheat. Gluten is merely one of those allergens (though it is important to note again that an intolerance is not the same as an allergy). Being allergic to wheat can be difficult to regulate because other types of grains like barley, rye and oats tend to be processed in the same facilities making them dangerous for consumption too because of the risk of contamination. Allergies directly linked to these other types of grains, which also includes corn seeds, do occur, but tend to be less common.
The sneaky thing about soybeans is that they actually are contained in a lot of types of processed foods and can be hard to avoid. Anaphylaxis is a rare symptom and the vast majority of allergic reactions to this type of food tend to be less severe and limited to children.
Lupin beans too are a common cause of allergy.
Although the above food types are the most common causes for allergic reactions, below are some less common allergies to bear in mind.
Seeds (Sesame in particular, but also sunflower, poppy seeds)
Preservatives (In particular sulfur dioxide/sulphites which are often used as preservative for dried fruit)
Vegetables (most commonly Celery, avocado, garlic and sweet corn)
Fruits (such as peach, banana, kiwi, passion fruit)
Meat (including beef, chicken, mutton, pork and products derived from meat – gelatin)
There are European guidelines about which food allergens food service provider and handlers should take extra care with.
Food handler tips:
It’s your responsibility as a food handler and food service operator to be aware that allergies can exist to pretty much all food types. Be proactive by clearly displaying on your menu what ingredients are hiding in your dishes. You should also avoid all cross contamination in your kitchen between all types of foods wherever possible through for example using separate chopping boards, keeping all utensils sterilised etc. Most importantly though have a crisis plan in place in the case of any serious case of anaphylaxis developing in your restaurant. Having a quick response time can be the difference between life and death.
Speak to us today for help with becoming legally compliant. We can:
- Help you increase and maintain a trustworthy food hygiene rating
- Help you implement food safety policies
- Help to train you and your staff in Health & Safety and Food Hygiene
- Help you with incident management
- Provide ongoing support and advice
Call us now on 01279 620 866 or email us on [email protected]
Other helpful resources
Print off this handy poster for your staff to remember the main EU regulated allergens: https://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/top-allergy-types.pdf