Allergens are a sensitive issue in the food industry. As up to 2% of adults and 8% of children are thought to suffer from food allergies, it’s becoming increasingly important for restaurants to have policies and procedures in place to help avoid incidents. Both from the point of view of regulatory compliance and in terms of ensuring a positive reputation for customer experience it’s crucial for any restaurant business to take steps to manage allergens in your menu.
Implementing best practice for managing allergens
- Integrate allergens into your customer ordering process, as well as the training and tech that you provide to staff. You’ll find a list of 14 common allergens in the Food Information Regulations 2014 and there is a requirement to provide information about these allergens to customers, however you choose to do so. Often, this is best factored into the ordering process so it’s essential to ensure that your staff are trained to give customers the right information at the right time, as well as to answer questions. Technology such as ePOS can help to ensure your team have key data at their fingertips.
- Provide allergen information on your website and menus. There is no need to offer a complete list of every ingredient used, or all the allergens that appear in your dishes. However, it’s important to demonstrate how customers can obtain this information from staff if they need to. Any information that you add to menus or your website must be 100% accurate – it’s essential to stay on top of where allergens appear in your business so that you can keep customers well informed.
- Delve deep into the supply chain. For most of the ingredients you’re analysing for allergens you’ll be reliant on information that comes through the supply chain. So, it’s crucial to ensure that any allergens that might be in any products you buy are fully disclosed by suppliers who understand the need for complete transparency.
- Establish sound kitchen protocols. Regular auditing of the presence of allergens, how they are used in the kitchen and where they appear is important to ensure you’re able to manage them. Cross-contamination can be a big issue in the kitchen and staff should be carefully trained, both in terms of awareness and avoidance techniques. It may not be possible to avoid cross contamination entirely and, if that’s the case, this is information that needs to be presented to customers.
- Ensure that you keep records and manage incidents. Should there ever be a need to prove that your business has effective allergen management in place, keeping records can be a valuable way to illustrate the steps you have taken to help handle the issue for customers. It can be essential to keep records of any incidents that do arise and to have incident response procedures in place so that staff know what to do if something happens.
It’s becoming increasingly important to ensure that your business is managing allergens. There are legal consequences (for example, it’s a criminal offence not to comply with food labelling requirements) and the potential for incident and injury is significant too. For a public facing business like a restaurant, allergen management is now essential.