Posts

The Control of Allergens: Your responsibility!

If you were to take a poll of 30 random people on the street, it is likely the percentage of them who have an allergy of some description would be fairly high.  We live in an age where, if we don’t have an allergy ourselves, we know several others who do.  Allergies and intolerances seem to be a modern day phenomenon and are on the rise. Whilst a lot of people suffer mildly, for some an allergic reaction can be absolutely fatal!

There are all sorts of allergies relating to different food groups and it is imperative that, as a business, you are aware of allergens, how to store them properly and how to avoid cross contamination.  Somebody with a severe allergy to nuts, for example, could go into anaphylactic shock just through ingesting something that has simply been through the same processer.  As a producer or supplier, this could mean that you would be at fault and, in the age in which we now live where litigation cases are at an all-time high, lengthy court proceedings could ensue, something you would wish to avoid at all costs.  In fact, just this week, two men have been in the news charged with the manslaughter of a teenage girl who died from a severe allergic reaction after consuming one of their takeaway meals which contained nuts.  They were charged with ‘failing to discharge general health and safety duty to a person other than an employee’.

Businesses need to be scrupulous in their handling of allergens and it is crucial that the relevant information about what products contain or could potentially contain is communicated clearly so that consumers are not left in any doubt. In fact, when a food allergy sufferer suffers an allergic reaction, it is commonly down to two things, namely, incorrect labelling of a product, or poor communication between staff and customers.

Storage and labelling of foods containing allergens

For those businesses in the catering line, food stuffs containing allergens should be kept in separate, waterproof containers and clearly labelled, preferably with a brightly coloured sticker or icon so that it is immediately apparent to your staff when they are sourcing ingredients for items they are producing.  It is advisable to store them away from other non-allergenic items and have a separate storage area so that you minimise any opportunity for cross contamination. Moreover, staff need to proactively look for and be made aware of hidden ingredients within a product. For example, if producing a shepherd’s pie, using  Worcestershire sauce, staff must communicate that it will contain fish, as anchovies are one of the main ingredients used in Worcestershire sauce.

For those businesses which are packaging and labelling products for sale, there are clear guidelines on alerting consumers to any potential allergens.  Those items which contain an allergen should be highlighted in bold in the ingredients list. For example, a mars bar would indicate that it contains milk chocolate.  This is required by law and is considered sufficient warning for the consumer.  There are 14 different allergen types about which you are required to notify consumers and it is vital that you are aware of them all.  You can find them listed on the Food Standards Agency website.

Cleaning of machinery/equipment/surfaces after using or packaging products containing allergens

Some food producers or packagers might have a dedicated allergen-free product line or area to avoid any cross contamination but this might not be possible for every company.  For most businesses, it will be a case of ensuring there are adequate cleaning processes in place.  Machinery and equipment should be taken apart where possible and all items thoroughly cleaned to remove all trace.  Every surface should also be cleaned as meticulously.  If this is not possible, the Food Standards Agency recommends evaluating the risk and using advisory labelling or notification to the consumer if necessary.

Remember, it isn’t just equipment and machinery that pose a risk.  Even clothing might be a hazard as allergens could be transferred this way.  You should ensure your staff wear correct clothing or protective covering where necessary.

And, of course, one of the most important and simplest processes is to make sure you and your staff wash your hands thoroughly after being in contact with any allergenic product to avoid cross contamination.

Ongoing training for staff

Your business needs to show that all your staff have received adequate instruction regarding allergens and there should be a clear audit trail of training records.  The more information your employees are given, the better equipped you will be to avoid any catastrophes.

We are able to offer training at your premises to assist you in ensuring you follow best practice and put in place procedures which will help you streamline this aspect of your business.  Please contact us if you would like to find out more or would like any help with training.

Alternatively, why not take our online Allergen Awareness Course. Sign up for a free trial today!

 

Is Food Safety an Optional Extra for food Businesses?

If you are a business owner or manager in the food industry, what would be top of your list for ensuring success and setting you apart from the rest?  The best menu, the best food or products, the newest techniques, the best décor, the best staff, the best location? Perhaps a combination of all of them or perhaps you really do lead the field in one or two and you’re a pioneering force within the industry.  But what about food safety?  Where does that feature in your list of priorities?

Food Business Operators have a legal, moral and commercial obligation to ensure the food they are producing is safe, and will not cause harm, injury or illness. With regulations and laws increasing and becoming ever tighter, good food safety procedures and training are imperative to the success of any business.  Whatever your field, inspections by your local authority are mandatory and your food safety processes will be subject to close scrutiny.

Most businesses providing food to the public will come under the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme whereby, based on the results of an inspection, you are given a hygiene rating of 0 to 5, with 5 being the highest and 0 being the lowest.  Although you might choose not to display the certificate in your window if you get a lower rating, all results are available on the Food Standards Agency website, so there is nowhere to hide.

Inspectors seek to ensure that you are creating food and food products that are safe to eat.  It won’t just be the end goods they’re looking at but the whole chain of events from its inception to the final product and all the equipment, processes, procedures, methods and systems in between.

Inspectors will also look at your advertising and product descriptions.  Are you labelling your food, your menus and products accurately or are you being deliberately ambiguous and hoodwinking customers?  Alternatively, you could be unaware that you are misleading customers and need guidance.

If you fall short in any area, inspectors will not be forgiving and enforcement officers have the power to take a number of different actions, depending on the severity of the problem.  A best case scenario would be a ‘hygiene improvement notice’ where you would have to ensure you changed certain procedures in order to meet with government standards and law.  A worst case scenario would be for them to recommend prosecution which could lead to a fine, being banned from the food industry or even imprisonment.

With such rigorous regulations, excellent food safety practices need to be in place and all staff should be trained, either to a basic or more advanced level, depending on their level of responsibility and involvement in the production process.  You can choose to improve your business by updating your décor, changing the tablecloths, updating your menu or hiring more staff but these are choices that you have the luxury of making or not making.  Food safety is not an optional extra like any of these might be, rather, it is an absolute essential to the success and safety of your business.

Remember however, that as important as compliance is, it is not an end in itself, but rather a means to an end. (Otherwise it can end-up as a mere ‘box ticking’ exercise which in the end is counter-productive). Ultimately, the most important reason Food Business Operators must take food safety seriously, is for the safety and wellbeing of their customers. That should always be the starting point. This involves:

– Protecting food from all types of contamination

– Preventing harmful bacteria from multiplying in food

– Destroying any harmful bacteria through correct processing and thorough cooking

– Disposing of any contaminated, unfit and/or suspect food.

Finally, and very importantly, managers, supervisors and team leaders can massively help implement standards and maintain a good food safety culture if they lead by example and put into practice what they preach. Hypocrisy is a big turn-off. A manager who takes a ‘maverick approach’ to food safety, or is sloppy, will often find that their staff are too – and in reality, to a greater degree.

Here are just some of the many benefits in taking food safety seriously and promoting a good food safety culture

– Reduced risk of food poisoning

– Satisfied customers

– Good reputation

– Peace of mind

– Hygienic working conditions, which leads to increased staff morale

– Legal compliance.

On the other hand, here are some of the costs of poor food safety practices

– Food poisoning and/or food safety incidents

– Increased complaints

– Poor reputation

– Less profitability

– Low staff morale

– Legal action / fines

– Imprisonment

– Closure of the business.

 

Catersafe Consultants have a wide range of training available from eLearning to a trainer coming to your premises to train you and your staff.  We pride ourselves on thorough and comprehensive training, equipping you to put in place procedures which will ensure the highest standards; standards which are crucial to your business.  Get in touch – we’d love to help you achieve those standards and be a leader in your industry.

Check out our eLearning course on how to achieve a maximum Food Hygiene Rating for your food business! Sign up for a free trial today!