Food allergen awareness key

Communication crucial to effective risk management

Both marzipan and frangipane contain almond – one of a number of common food allergies

FOOD in pubs and restaurants has rarely been under greater scrutiny.

From the origin and traceability of produce, to the inclusion – or, more often than not, omission – of certain ingredients, the amount of information consumers request about dishes is not insignificant.

And it’s crucial that everyone working in an outlet has the facts at their fingertips – particularly when it comes to allergens, which have the potential to cause a life-threatening reaction.

Operators of food businesses must, therefore, have an allergen management procedure in place – and ensure allergen information is clearly communicated to staff and customers.

Effective allergen management can be achieved with three main steps, according to Food Standards Scotland.

Firstly, allergens – and the foods which typically contain them – must be identified..

Once allergens have been identified, the risk they can pose must be managed. This can be done by checking food deliveries match orders – and if they don’t, that the ingredient list of the replacement product is carefully checked. “Never accept a delivery without it being fully labelled with an ingredient list,” advises Food Standards Scotland in its CookSafe manual.

Safe storage and avoiding cross-contamination are the next considerations in managing allergen risks. Foods that contain allergens must be stored separate to other foods using clearly marked or colour-coded containers; and powdered products that contain allergens, such as flour or powdered milk, in air-tight containers. In all cases, the original product description should be retained.

Food Standards Scotland said the safe storage of all foods containing allergens is crucial.

“Remember, minute traces of foods which contain allergens can get into other foods and cause a reaction,” says the organisation in its guidance.

Risk management also extends to the preparation of dishes. All food for an allergy sufferer must be prepared in a separate area in which the work surface, equipment and utensils have been thoroughly cleaned. Food Standards Scotland said the person preparing the food must carefully check all ingredients – including secondary ingredients like thickeners for sauces; they must not cook food in oil in which other foods have been cooked; and must not remove allergenic ingredients, such as nuts, from a dish and call it ‘allergy-free’ because residues of the allergenic ingredient may remain in the dish and may still cause a reaction.

Minute traces of foods containing allergens can get into other foods and cause a reaction.

The third and final step in an effective allergen management procedure is communication with staff and customers.

All staff – back and front of house – should be trained in allergy awareness and understand that they should never guess whether or not an allergen is present in food. Kitchen staff must also inform front of house of any recipe changes.

When it comes to customers, clear menu descriptions are a ‘must’.

“Where possible, design your menu to ensure names and descriptions of dishes reflect potential allergenic ingredients,” said Food Standards Scotland in its guidance.

The organisation also advised operators to compile a list of ‘house rules’ covering allergen management in their business, and then monitor compliance.

“The allergen management house rules are an essential component of your HACCP (Hazard and Critical Control Point)-based system and must be kept up to date at all times,” it said. “Your house rules need to be written to accurately reflect how you run your business and be readily understood by all food-handling staff.”

David Bashford, managing director of food and health and safety consultancy Food Alert, underlined the importance of communication when it comes to allergen management.

“It all starts with complying with the key requirements of the legislation, because this is all about intentional ingredients in foods,” he said.

“Therefore, you need to know what allergens are in the ingredients you use and ensure suppliers are instructed to advise you if they need to change or substitute ingredients.

“Always prepare food to a consistent recipe or instruction and ‘signpost’ the availability of allergen information to customers using a menu statement and signage.”

SOME of the most common allergens and examples of foods which contain them are:


Cereals containing gluten

Bread, pasta, cakes, pastry, sauces, soups, batter, stock cubes, breadcrumbs, semolina, couscous, some meat products.


Celery and celeriac

Salads, soups, celery salt, some meat products.



Cakes, sauces, pasta, mayonnaise, some meat products, glazed products.


Fish, crustaceans and molluscs

Some salad dressings, fish extracts, oils and paste, Soy and Worcestershire sauces, relishes.



Milk powder, yoghurt, butter, cheese, cream, ghee, foods glazed with milk, ice cream.



Mustard paste, seeds, leaves, flour, powder and liquid mustard, salad dressings, marinades, soups, sauces, curries, some meat products.



Arachis oil, peanut butter, flour, satay sauce, refined peanut oil.


Other nuts

In sauces, desserts, bread, crackers, ice cream, praline (hazelnut), nut butters, essences and oils, marzipan and frangipane (almond), pesto, nut salad dressings.


Sesame seeds

Oil or paste, tahini, houmous, halva, furikake, gomashio, bread.



Some ice cream, sauces, desserts, meat products, vegetarian products.


Sulphur Dioxide and sulphites

Some meat products, stock cubes, bouillon mix, fruit juice drinks, dried fruit/vegetables, wine, beer, cider.


Lupin seeds and flour

Some types of bread and pastries.


– Food Standards Scotland