Allergies and the importance of staff training

Key Points

  • Food allergies can be life-threatening in the event of an anaphylactic reaction    
  • 90% of food allergies are caused by nine common allergens    
  • The National Allergy Strategy has a free online training course for foodservice workers to provide a baseline understanding of how to prepare food safely for people with allergies    
  • ‘Hidden’ ingredients in garnishes and sauces, last-minute ingredient substitution and temporary staff modifying recipes are all risk factors to look out for    

DO YOUR STAFF know which foods and ingredients most commonly trigger allergic reactions and how to minimise associated risks?

It may come as a surprise to learn that both children and adults can become allergic to any kind of food – for reasons that have yet to be fully understood. However, ninety per cent of allergic reactions to food are caused by the nine most common food allergens: peanuts, tree nuts (almonds, cashews), wheat, egg, cow’s milk, soy, sesame, fish and shellfish.

To increase knowledge around food allergies in the foodservice market, the National Allergy Strategy’s Foodservice Project has developed an All About Allergens online training course for all foodservice workers which provides a baseline understanding of how to prepare food safely for people with allergies.

Those who complete the basic online training receive a certificate and it’s a good idea to encourage all staff who haven’t already done so to take the time to undertake it. It’s free and has been designed to be fast and relatively simple to complete. And once your staff have completed the basic course, there’s a ‘next step’ one designed specifically to help make your business safer for customers with food allergies.

“We want professionals working in foodservice to understand how important it is to know what’s in your food and to be able to provide appropriate food to your customers,” says National Allergy Strategy Coordinator Sandra Vale. “Sometimes there’s a lack of understanding about the severity of food allergy and that can lead to reactions occurring.

“It’s also important to say that the burden should not only be on the foodservice sector. We need to educate consumers as well, so everyone understands what their responsibility is in choosing and providing appropriate food.”

While there continues to be confusion about the difference between food allergies and intolerances Sandra says the fundamental difference is that allergies involve the immune system and can be life-threatening.

“Food allergy can lead to an anaphylactic reaction which must be treated as a medical emergency. We know that some people who have died from food allergy have previously only had a mild or moderate reaction to it. But there’s no way of knowing whether the next reaction or the one after that will be more severe.”

While cross-contamination risk is the key area that has been focused on in the past, Sandra says that use of ‘hidden’ ingredients are increasingly causing allergic reactions.

“For example, sometimes a garnish may contain an allergen, but the chef is not the one putting it on the dish so it gets overlooked. That highlights why staff communication is so vital – everyone needs to know when a dish is being prepared for someone with a food allergy, and what that allergy is.”

Last-minute substitutions of ingredients from your food distributor can also pose a potential problem. “If the product you buy changes or you receive one that’s different from what you ordered, you need to check that the replacement product doesn’t contain a food allergen.”

Temporary staff coming to fill in for other workers is another risk factor. “You need to make sure they’re not changing the regular recipes. Having standardised recipes that are always followed is very important in terms of ensuring effective food allergen management.”

The Food Allergy training website includes extensive resources including allergy checklists, information sheets and a Foodservice Kit available for purchase.