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Food Allergies: Avoiding the Reaction
It has been estimated that around 20% of the UK are living with food allergies or intolerances. Reactions can range from a slight upset stomach to severe, life-threatening conditions, meaning sufferers need to adjust their diets accordingly. George Rouse finds out more
Research by Allergy UK found that 92% of those living with a severe allergy are concerned about eating out as they have less control over what is going into their food. In many cases eating at a catered event could be riskier than a restaurant as guests often don’t know what they’re eating, especially if it is a buffet for example.
However, Holland and Barrett have revealed that 49% of us struggle to cater for people who have allergies, even if they’re friends and family. As professionals, you need the peace of mind that you have the right processes and procedures to ensure your guests remain safe.
George Rouse, owner of George’s Kitchen, understands how dangerous food allergies are, not just for sufferers, but also the dangers to caterers who haven’t taken the right steps to prevent and avoid a reaction. Here are his tips on how to cater for guests with allergies, to ensure everyone’s safety.
Processes and procedures: adhering to regulations
Due to the severity of the reactions some people have, food allergies are not something you should ignore, they need to be taken very seriously. In 2014 the new food information to consumers regulations came into place, making it a legal requirement for caterers to provide consumers with information on the top 14 allergens.
Although tree nuts, eggs and shellfish are amongst the most common allergies, any food may cause a reaction. Therefore, it is important to have a framework of safeguarding processes and procedures that will ensure the safety of your guests. It is also in your interest that allergen management processes are communicated to your staff because you may be held liable for their errors. Ensure there is regular training provided so they are up date with requirements; this may even include first aid training so you are covered should a reaction occur.
In the kitchen: necessary precautions
Ensuring your guests are looked after starts in the kitchen. Firstly, you need to check all deliveries that come in, to confirm no ingredients have been changed since you last used them because you can never be too careful. Also, to avoid confusion, make sure labels remain on prepacked food, so you can keep track of their contents.
Another key thing to remember in the kitchen is taking precautions to avoid cross-contamination. When cooking, try and remember to change your gloves or wash your hands regularly, as well as using separate utensils and equipment when switching between dishes. This may not always be possible, so alternatively you can wash the equipment thoroughly.
You could also adapt your standard menu to make it more universal for allergen sufferers. For example, avoid the use of allergens as garnishes such as nuts and cheese, unless it is an essential part of the dish. Also avoid cooking with allergen-based oils such as peanut or sesame oil, which will save a lot of hassle in the long run.
Communication: dietary requirements
Talking to your clients and their guests is vital. When you book the event, make it clear to the host that they should enquire about special requirements where possible. This puts you in the know and allows you to be prepared far in advance. One way of achieving this is by putting out the menu you’re offering and the ingredients that will go into it. Guests will then know what to expect and can alert you to any changes needed. In this case, once you have released a menu, it is important that you stick to the same recipe to ensure there is no changes to the ingredients.
It may also be a good idea to communicate back to the individuals who need special dietary requirements if it’s appropriate and you’re able to identify them. Letting them know you are aware of their allergies and are cooking with them in mind, will give them peace of mind and reassurance you’re taking their allergies seriously.
Clear labelling: transparent food
It may not always be possible to communicate with guests prior to or during the event and relying on them to tell you could be problematic. Messages might not be relayed properly, so it’s best to cover your back in additional ways. If it is a sit-down event, make sure allergens are clearly highlighted on the menu. Canapés or buffet style catering can prove trickier as guests tend to pick up food without thinking about what it is. Alternately, they presume they know what is in the food, but often there are hidden ingredients.
To avoid confusion, it is best to clearly label each food. It could also be useful to reiterate the use of allergens in a dish by incorporating them into the name of the dish, for example a nut and carrot salad makes the contents clear.