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Food Allergens Course - Food Allergens Course Level 2

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Allergens & the Law - learn

‘This chapter considers key changes in the Law that came into force in Dec 2014 affecting food sold loose or served out of home, plus associated labelling information that must be supplied with all food products. It also considers potential legal penalties and the issue of building sufficient Due Diligence defence to protect you and your business/employer in the event of a serious food allergy related incident’.

Introduction

Welcome to this Level 2 Award in Food Allergy Awareness (Catering) course.

Within this course we are going to look at allergens; what is an allergen, which are the main allergens, how they affect a person, and what you need to do when something goes wrong.

We are going to talk about your legal requirements and what you need to do to control allergens to hopefully avoid any cross-contamination. And as an additional benefit we have also included a chapter on Emergency First Aid, featuring Helen Underwood, a leading expert on Anaphylaxis and Emergency First Aid procedures including the use of EpiPens.

To start this course we are going to talk about your legal requirements. In Dec 2014 the laws affecting food allergens were updated and you need to understand how this affects you, both as a business and as a person working in the catering industry.

You may work in a restaurant, pub, hotel, take-away, delicatessen, sandwich shop, childcare setting, care home, school, coffee shop, food manufacturing, food retailer, or a prison. Regardless of where you work, the law applies to everyone.  You may be involved in the preparation and cooking or just serving food cooked/prepared by somebody else; the law still applies to everyone!

December 2014 Changes

If you were to read the all the legal notifications and directives from the EU, you may not notice the essential changes, as the directives can be extremely long and tedious to read. We have highlighted the two key points and we will also, later on, detail the 14 identified allergens.

On the 13th December 2014, the Food Information for Consumers Regulation 1169/2011 (EU FIC) changed the way allergen information appears on labels and on food that is pre -packed, sold loose or served out of home. New Legislation is effective across the EU. Since this date, (13th December 2014), you also need to be able to answer any consumer queries regarding allergens for the food you serve. Importantly, you can no longer say that you are unsure.

Key Change 1 - Food sold loose or served out of home

If you bought a food product from a retailer such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s or Asda you would immediately be able to see what allergens the food product contains. In fairness, all major retailers and suppliers have been providing this information for years.

However, what became apparent to the governing bodies was that the majority of food served ‘out of home’, for example, in a restaurant, café, pub, delicatessen, take-away, hospital, school, or care home is made from ‘scratch’, a ‘bit of this and a bit of that’. 

As a result of cooking from scratch, chefs don’t usually tend to write down the full ingredients and quite often the front-of-house staff, waiters, or care workers are not 100% clear on the ingredients.  A simple slip in communication or someone presuming a dish does not contain nuts, for example, has the potential to kill somebody!

The intention and benefits of these new laws is to tighten up on this situation, to make sure that both caterers and customers alike have a better understanding of what is actually in a dish.

The law is not designed to make your role more difficult, but to actually save lives!
It does not seek to discourage cooking from scratch as this is what the industry is about. The aim is to protect consumers by raising awareness within the industry and it is vital that catering workers develop a sense of ownership and responsibility.

Point to Consider:
If you have two or more chefs in the business, do they all cook the same dish the same way? All chefs have a different interpretation of a recipe and all like to add their own signature to a dish. Does the front of house staff know this and are they able to inform the customer? As a business, do you want to enforce a tighter adherence to a recipe or will this aggravate the chefs?? At the end of the day, it’s ultimately about providing clear information to the person who is going to be consuming the meal.

Key Change 2 - Labelling Information Overview & Guidelines

The new legislation regarding food labelling and allergens presents real challenges for the food industry. No matter how the information is presented, what is certain is that consumers MUST be made aware of the allergens present in foods sold loose or through the foodservice sector.

As a business you will need to declare the inclusion of any of the 14 allergens to customers in a variety of ways, such as on menus and chalkboards, or clear signposting to where the information can be obtained and through oral communication. The allergen information must be accurate, consistent and verifiable upon challenge, for example, when asked by a consumer or a local EHO (Environmental Health Officer).

Idea:
Create a folder/book and include a recipe for each dish you serve that highlights any allergens that are in the recipe. Ensure all staff, including new starters, are aware of this information, understand it and have it readily available to show to any customer who is asking the question. It will make your business look professional and give the customer a sense of security.

The new legislation, the Food Information for Consumers Regulation 1169/2011 (EU FIC) which came into effect on the 13th Dec 2014 was designed to bring general and nutritional labelling together into a single regulation to simplify and consolidate existing labelling legislation into a single framework. As previously mentioned, some changes to labelling have already happened as businesses prepared for these changes.

In addition to the inclusion of foods sold loose, made from scratch, or through the food service sector, the biggest change is in how you display this information and which allergens you must include. We will detail the 14 allergens in a later chapter. (In most situations, you will not be packaging and labelling foods so this information needs to be included in the folder/book we suggested).

The allergenic ingredients need to be emphasised using a typeset that clearly distinguishes it from the rest of the ingredients, for example by means of the font, style or background colour. Food businesses can choose what method they want to use to emphasise the 14 allergens on their product label.


Examples

We have provided an example of some labels below, and in a later chapter we will look at this more closely and spend some time explaining how to write a recipe.

Quarter Pounder Beef Steak Mince Burger with Vintage English Cheddar Cheese and Chives

Ingredients: Beef, Cheddar Cheese (Milk), Breadcrumbs (Wheat Flour, Salt, Yeast), Chive, Sea Salt, Spices (Black Pepper, White Pepper, Ginger), Dried Onion, Potato Starch, Sugar, Preservative (Sodium Metabisulphite), Wheat Flour contains: Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Thiamin, Niacin.

Leek & Wensleydale Stuffed Mushrooms

Ingredients: Mushrooms. Leek & Wensleydale Cream Cheese Filling: Wensleydale Cheese (Milk), Full Fat Soft Cheese (Milk), Leek. Ciabatta Crumb: (Fortified Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin, Yeast, Olive Oil, Salt, Leek Powder, White Pepper), Parsley Breadcrumb:  Breadcrumb, (Fortified Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin),  Water, Salt, Yeast, Palm Oil, Rapeseed Oil, Emulsifier (Mono and Diacetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Mono & Diglycerides of Fatty Acids), Flour Treatment Agent (Ascorbic acid), Water, Butter (Milk), Rusk (Fortified Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin, Salt), Rapeseed Oil, Salt, Parsley, White Pepper, Cheddar Cheese (Milk)

Where several ingredients or processing aids in a food, originate from a single allergenic ingredient, the labelling should make this clear for each ingredient or processing aid concerned. For example, skimmed milk powder, whey (milk), lactose (milk). This is to make sure that a member of staff or a consumer knows exactly what is included. Someone may not be aware that whey is actually milk and you must ensure that there is no confusion.

Where the name of the food (such as a box of eggs or bag of peanuts) clearly refers to the allergenic ingredients concerned, there is no need for a separate declaration of the allergenic food.

Understanding the Law

In addition to the Laws affecting the above, there are also certain laws which you need to consider. You may already be aware of them if you have previously undertaken any food hygiene training:

The protection of consumers who are sensitive to food allergies and intolerance is covered by criminal food safety law.

  • Article 14, Regulation (EC) 178/2002, prohibits food being placed on the market if it is unsafe. Food is considered to be unsafe if it is injurious to health or unfit for human consumption. To determine if food is unsafe it is essential to consider long term, short term and toxic effects as well as sensitivities in the intended consumer.
  • Section 14 of the Food Safety Act 1990 states that it is an offence to sell any food that is not of the nature, substance or quality demanded by the purchaser.
  • Section 15 states that it is an offence to sell or display food that is falsely described or labelled in a way that means it is misleading as to its nature, substance or quality.

Basically these laws are to protect the consumer, including people who are sensitive to food allergies. If you knowingly sell a food item that could cause injury, you will be prosecuted. Remember you have a legal duty to provide SAFE FOOD.

Legal Penalties

As with all food safety matters, an Environmental Health Officer will be responsible for inspecting your business to make sure you are meeting your legal obligations in preparing and serving food safely.

The penalties for breaching food safety law, which includes allergens, can have a significant financial impact on your business and for serious incidents can even result in imprisonment.

Fines in the magistrate’s court can be as high as £20,000, with the possibility of a maximum prison sentence of six months. For more serious offences, and where a high number of people may be affected, cases can be heard in the Crown Court where fines are unlimited and a maximum of two years imprisonment can be imposed.

Due Diligence Defence

You may already be aware of the term ‘Due Diligence defence’ from your food hygiene training. This is still relevant when we consider food allergens.

To prove Due Diligence, the law states “it is essential to prove that the person took all reasonable precautions and exercised due diligence to avoid contamination of food”.

If someone was to have an allergenic reaction and informed the local authorities, (an Environmental Health Officer), you need to be able to prove that you did everything within your power to avoid a contamination incident. You will need to prove that you have implemented all the current laws we have just talked about and you have acted in good faith. It may be that on closer examination and testing of ingredients that the contamination source may have come from a supplier.

Please note that it is no longer be acceptable for food businesses or a caterer to avoid responsibility by claiming to have no knowledge of the ingredients that are in the food that they are selling. Also remember, there may be allergens hidden in flavourings and the ingredients of sauces, so always make sure you find out.

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