The shortage of HGV drivers is now starting to impact hospitality businesses, with deliveries of food being delayed. We spoke with Rob Easton, Head of Consultancy at Shield Safety Group, about the potential impact on food safety and what businesses can do to reduce this risk.  

Disrupted and unreliable supply chains have huge impacts on the ability for any business to trade, but for food businesses the potential repercussion goes beyond being inconvenient to being life threatening.  As businesses look for alternative ingredients, they may inadvertently miss allergens and end up serving food that is injurious to health. However, there are steps that businesses can take to manage this risk and continue to operate safely.  

  1. Explain the why – it is easy for chefs and others working in the hospitality trade to become blasé towards allergens. Chefs commonly report that they are inundated with allergen notifications from guests because of diet preferences rather than a true need to avoid certain foods for medical reasons. It is important to remember that for some people exposure to allergens can be life altering and potentially life ending. As someone who has close family members who suffer from Celiac disease, I am only too aware that what some may dismiss as ‘only an upset stomach’ can in fact seriously impact an individual ability to run a business, fight other health conditions or attend school. Businesses must ensure that all team members know the impact of allergens on people’s health and understand their role and responsibilities in serving food that is safe to eat.  
  2. A plan B – food businesses should have a policy on purchasing substitute products. Ingredients must only be purchased from reputable suppliers. It is recommended that businesses identify which products can be purchased outside of the usual supply chain. It is common for businesses only to allow basic ingredients such as eggs, milk and meat to be purchased from other sources. This is because they are primary products and unlikely to have unexpected allergens in them. If purchasing products outside of the normal supply chain, then the ingredients listings must be checked carefully. For example, something as simple as frozen chips might contain gluten in a dusting or batter coating. If substitute products contain allergens, this must be communicated to the guests, preferably in writing or in the form of an allergen matrix. It is also important that regular guests are made aware of potential changes to the recipe and know to always ask for the updated allergen information.     
  3. Change the offer – food businesses are often reluctant to run out of a dish and fear that customers will be disappointed and not return. Businesses and customers have to become more accepting that sometimes dishes will sell out and it is safer to not substitute and find alternatives. If the disruption to deliveries is anticipated to be ongoing, then the menu can be altered to contain products with longer shelf lives, allowing for more stock to be held at a site level.  
  4. Unintended consequences – a known phenomenon in supply chains is the ‘bull whip effect’. , This is when a small fluctuation at one end of the supply chain has an increasingly larger effect at the other end. In the current case, small disruptions to delivery could result in businesses overcompensating and holding considerable amounts of food to cover potential stock outs. Increased stock levels present their own food safety risk, for example increased likelihood of cross contamination as storage becomes tighter; insufficient fridge and freezer space, so products are not properly temperature controlled; the possibility of pest activity as ingredients cannot be moved fully to allow for effective cleaning and pest monitoring; food going out of date or becoming unfit for consumption. When deciding to increase stock levels, businesses must consider carefully if they have the room, equipment and capability to do it safely and not to create further food safety hazards.  

Rob Easton is the Head of Consultancy at Shield Safety Group. Having been a regulator, operator, senior safety leader, coach, and consultant in both the UK and abroad Rob brings a unique rounded view on safety within the hospitality and retail environment. He is a Chartered Environmental Health Practitioner and Fellow of the Institute of Leadership and Management and has supported businesses to improve their safety performance and culture for over 20 years.