Time to get nuts about allergens

Food allergies and allergens, specifically nut allergies, have made the headlines once again in recent weeks after the tragic story of former ITV producer, Amy May Shead, gained the nation’s attention. The 29-year-old has been left unable to speak, see or walk properly after eating a meal containing nuts whilst in Budapest which caused a near-fatal anaphylactic reaction – leaving her brain starved of oxygen.

Trying to find a silver lining out of this situation, Amy’s family are using her story as a platform to raise awareness and as a call to action for nuts and nut products to be banned from airlines. Despite debate in the media, the petition currently stands at over 285,000 signatories – with just a few thousand to go.

These long-term consequences following an allergic reaction to nuts have shown just how crucial it is for all food serving businesses to manage allergens successfully, now more than ever.

Peanut allergies are becoming increasingly prominent. Strictly speaking peanuts are a member of the legume family, so people are often also allergic to soya, green or kidney beans, green peas and lupins too. Peanut derivatives, such as nut flour and nut oils, also known as groundnut oil also contain the allergen.

Often, only minute quantities of peanut can cause a severe reaction. Reactions may include flushing and/or swelling of the face and neck, fainting, hives, vomiting, itching and/or anxiety as well as anaphylaxis which is life-threatening.

Sufferers from peanut allergies may also be allergic to the nut family including brazil nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, pecans, cashews and pistachio’s. These ingredients are commonly used in cake making, sauces, breads, crackers and as a dessert ingredient including ice cream and marzipan. Similarly again to peanuts, ground almonds and unrefined nut oils are a commonly used ingredient containing the allergen. Reactions to nut ingestion are similar to those experienced with a peanut allergy.

With the correct safety measures, tragic accidents can be avoided. Don’t leave anything to chance.

Did you know? That both peanuts and members of the nut family are sometimes used in pesto instead of pine nuts. Beware!

The first prosecution for mishandling of allergens took place in June last year after the new law was implemented in December 2014, as featured in our blog Peanut prosecution highlights the importance of allergen awareness. Further to the advice in that piece, in 7 handy tips to manage allergens we outlined vital steps to take in order to successfully manage allergens in any food serving business to protect yourself, your business and your customers:

  • Effective communication
  • Tell customers about allergens
  • Store allergens separately
  • Separate work surfaces and designated utensils
  • Label all foods
  • Signpost allergen information
  • Good hygiene

Underpinning all of these is a key requirement of effective training, without this the above steps cannot be implemented or carried out successfully. There are many training providers, including Shield Safety Group who provide allergen training, and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) offer free online training as a great starting point.

In addition, there are a few other areas to consider including:

Managing allergens should start with the delivery of goods, and this should start with you using reputable suppliers and contractors. On delivery, it is vital that you check the products match the order you placed, as different brands might have different ingredients. Pre-packaged food must never be accepted without it being fully labelled with an ingredients list. Remember to keep the allergen labelling information for each product.

During cooking
It is good practice to separate dishes that were requested to be made without allergens from foods containing allergens. You could do this by using clean oil for frying, fresh water for boiling, using different equipment or by ensuring that the food is separated by a physical barrier or distance. These measures will minimise any risk of contamination. If this is not possible, of feasible, you must ensure the customer is aware that the same equipment will be used, for example a deep fat fryer being used for both gluten and non-gluten dishes.

Distance selling
If you are selling food without direct face to face contact, for example selling food on the internet, by telephone or through takeaway delivery you need to ensure customers are provided with allergen information at the point of ordering before the purchase is concluded and at the point of delivery. This could be done, for example, by asking every customer if they have any allergies before they order and labelling all takeaway containers with relevant allergen information. When using third party delivery services the information must still be provided at the point of ordering and at delivery. Cross-contamination during delivery should be taken into consideration.

Recording information
In order to ensure all colleagues are fully informed of the allergens contained in your menu items they should be written down. We recommend our clients to use an Allergen Matrix, provided with their Food Safety Management System, which can be completed online and then printed. This should be checked every day to make sure it is up to date. Any changes to the menu, specials or daily offers must also be updated.

A different point of view
On the other side of the table, Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) has created the SafeFARE program providing advice to allergy sufferers on all stages of dining out. By putting the shoe on the other foot and looking at managing allergens from this point of view too, you can ensure that you and your staff are prepared to respond adequately to these.

Here at Shield Safety HQ we have a no-nuts policy which we take very seriously as a few of our colleagues have airborne allergies and it is our duty to protect them. One of the Shield Safety family has experienced some poor treatment by airlines in the past, even being deemed ‘unfit to fly’ because of her allergy. So, we’ll be signing the petition here.

Do you need support managing allergens, or other areas of Food Safety? Speak to our team today by filling out the form below.

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Prefer to chat to us over the phone? Call Steven on 020 3740 3744

The information contained in this blog article has been created for marketing purposes and is not official guidance and should not be used as a substitute for official Food Safety, Fire Safety and Health & Safety advice. Shield Safety take no responsibility if the information in the blog article is used to form part of a safety management system or used to form part of any legal or regulatory compliance for your business. For official guidance and to engage with Shield Safety services please do call our team on 020 3740 3744 or email hello@shieldsafety.co.uk.

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