How To Handle Allergens In The Food Industry
Food allergies can be serious, harmful and even fatal. For this reason, the food industry must abide by a range of safety measures when preparing, handling and labelling food. In this guide, we will give you an overview of these measures and share what allergens you need to be aware of. We will also provide some additional guidance and resources from the Food and Drink Federation and the Food Standards Agency.
Food businesses must tell you if any of the 14 following allergens are present in the food or drink, they are serving:
Cereals Containing Gluten
Sulphur Dioxide And Sulphites (at a concentration of more than ten parts per million)
Prepacked food should empathise allergens on its list of ingredients. This is typically done using bold and/or italics. Unpacked food, otherwise known as loose food, such as that found at delis, butchers and bakeries should also disclose allergens. Consuming these ingredients can be extremely dangerous for some people so it is important they can easily identify whether or not they are present in food.
When eating out this information should be disclosed in writing (for example, on the menu). Alternatively, or in addition to this, you can display a sign on how to obtain the information – such as by asking a member of staff.
Cross-Contamination And “May Contain”
Often food which does not contain certain allergens in the recipe may be produced in a factory or kitchen where the allergens are present. This can lead to cross-contamination in which traces of the allergens are present in the food. Disclosing the potential unintentional presence of allergens is important. This is done with precautionary labelling using “may contain”.
In addition to allergens, vegan, vegetarian, and other foods which are suitable for specific dietary requirements should use precautionary labelling where there are possible traces of food not suitable for the relevant dietary restrictions.
To protect people with allergies, food businesses and manufacturers should take measures to prevent cross-contamination. The main steps for cross-contamination prevention are:
Between uses, all utensils, surfaces and food handling equipment should be thoroughly cleaned to remove allergens which could otherwise be passed into other foods which should not contain them.
Similarly, to cleaning utensils, cleaning your hands between handling food with and without allergens is essential.
Both prepared foods and ingredients should be stored separately in closed, labelled food storage bins or ingredient containers.
The use of “free-from” claims requires the use of strict measures for how food is handled and prepared. If an allergen is used in a kitchen and you cannot remove the risk of cross-contamination then foods and drinks, even those which do not intentionally contain the allergen, cannot be labelled ‘allergen’-free. You can find more guidance on free from allergen claims from the Food and Drink Federation.
No matter which part of the food industry you work there is a duty to protect people with food allergies by following the necessary precautionary measures. From ensuring you have met the necessary criteria to make “free-from” claims to properly labelling your food, there are many steps to handling food allergens. For more details on how to accommodate food allergies and intolerances visit https://www.food.gov.uk/safety-hygiene/allergy-and-intolerance.