FOOD ALLERGIES: A MATTER OF LIFE & DEATH
Community-Chef & Food Safety Trainer Afruj Choudhury
Last week I read the tragic news of an 18 -year-old teenager named Shahida Shahid who collapsed after dinner on Friday night. Shahida, a Manchester student, died from a suspected allergic reaction after eating at a popular Manchester restaurant.
I am deeply saddened and shocked after reading this story especially as I recently wrote an article about the new food allergen laws introduced in December 2014; my aim was to create awareness and promote the importance of food allergen knowledge and training in the food, curry and hospitality industry.
Shahida’s death should serve as a wakeup call and a final warning about the need for everyone involved in the food service and catering businesses to train and learn underpinning knowledge about food allergies and dietary requirements so they are able to properly assist consumers who may be vulnerable to life-threatening allergic reaction and prevent possible fatality.
Food allergens can be life threatening and the only way people can manage a food allergy is to avoid the foods that make them ill. An oversight on your part – such as serving someone a food they are allergic to – can damage the reputation of your business as well as cause serious harm to your customer. Food allergens cannot be removed by cooking. That is why it’s essential to practice good kitchen hygiene, as well as careful separation, storage and labelling of ingredients when preparing food. From 13 December 2014, all food businesses have to provide information about the allergenic ingredients used in food sold or provided by them.
The information can be supplied on the menu, on chalk boards, tickets or provided verbally by an appropriate member of staff, as well as other formats made available to the consumer. It must be clear cut, not hidden away, easily visible and legible.
If you sell a food product which contains or uses an ingredient from any one of the 14 allergenic substances then it needs to be declared. This means that you need to check all your recipes/foods for sale to assess whether they contain any of these allergens. A list or matrix of allergens should be compiled for each recipe so that staff can easily inform customers about the presence of these allergens in the foods for sale. Staff need to be given proper allergen training so that they can handle food allergy queries from customers with confidence.
Even large companies who already have allergen policies in place are making mistakes with mixed information, miss-labelling and not communicating properly to the customer. It may seem insignificant to some, but to a food allergy sufferer it really can mean the difference between life and death.
As a Community-Chef & Food Safety Trainer my aim is to highlight the changes in food related laws and regulations to help the hospitality industry to become ‘Food Allergy Aware’ and avoid prosecutions. I use the media and pop up workshops to demonstrate best practice and outline risks associated with food allergens, food hygiene and healthy cooking.
For the best part of 50 years, the British curry industry focused on how to best serve customers who, by all accounts, had little or no obstacles when it came to enjoying eating out. While much has been done to educate kitchen staff on safe food-handling practices, continued instruction in the food allergen area could prevent fatal consequences as well as a bad reputation for your business.
There is a big difference between food items to which people are intolerant, such as gluten, and items that result in an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions are often more severe; this is why food allergy training is an important component of any food service operation.
We have talked a lot about the importance of food safety training, and the news of Shahida’s death, despite being in its early stages of investigation, is a ‘timely reminder’ to the food industry about the significance of providing information to customers with food allergies.