Our final week for food allergen management advice has arrived! Over the last two weeks we’ve been providing a number of considerations that could help your business improve its standard operating procedure for food allergen compliance. We’ve covered the topics of food allergen training and food allergen documenting already, so this week it’s all about dealing with food allergens in your service procedures.
Are there regulations regarding food allergens and service?
Although company policies and standard operating procedure for food allergens can vary dramatically between different types of businesses, the ultimate aim is of course to ensure that a customer is never served food that contains any food allergen that will cause them to suffer an allergic reaction. The service part of any food business, however, is the hardest to regulate as it is reliant on all staff following the service procedures that are required of them. It is impossible to monitor this completely and for this reason it is also the area that is most susceptible to errors in food allergen management.
There are, however, a number of tips that we recommend our customers to follow. These aren’t compulsory, but can safeguard your business from service related errors that could expose your customers to the risk of being served food containing the food allergens they are allergic to.
Our top tips for ensuring customers are not served food that contain food allergens that could be dangerous to them are as follows:
- Ask all customers if they have a food allergy or intolerance when you welcome them to the table
This may seem like an excess responsibility for your already busy staff, but if you train staff to make this a habit they will simply follow protocol without needing to put in too much extra effort. It shows true care from your business towards your customers, especially toward those who suffer from allergies and may find it stressful to deal with managing what they eat whenever they eat out. It is also an extra layer of protection in case a customer forgets to declare their allergy. By dealing with the issue right from the get-go, you can ensure that staff pay the appropriate level of attention to this vital information.
- Mark any food allergen information on the food order clearly in red
Yes, it means your staff need to carry red pens, but in the grand scheme of things, this is hardly a difficult protocol to implement. Again it simply ensures that important food allergen information is relayed to kitchen staff in an effective manner and highlights the information in such a way that it cannot be ignored or missed. It’s an important, easy to implement and effective second step in the service process that will keep your customers safe from harm.
- Have a single point of contact for an order for each customer who suffers from a food allergy – this is particularly relevant in a function where the customer will move around
Assigning staff to certain tasks is standard to any operation. Ensure that when it comes to food allergens one member of staff takes ownership for all food served to a specific customer who suffers from an allergy. Record it too so that staff members know they are being held truly accountable for the careful handling of that particular customer’s food and drinks. We’ve found this to be a very reliable method in ensuring customers’ food is kept free from the food allergens that affect them.
- Check that the food allergy information has reached the kitchen; check again that the food prepared is allergen free; check that this dish is served separately from the other dishes.
The single point of contact – often the waiter in charge of the customer with the food allergy – is best placed to carry out the required checks in relation to each stage of the food production process. That being said, your kitchen staff too should be asking the final two questions as well to make sure that they have processed the order in an allergen-free way. If you so wish, you could even create a logging system for the service staff to allow them to document the completion of each stage of the checks.
One of the most vulnerable operation types to errors in food allergen management is the buffet-style operation.
For those businesses who operate as a buffet we have some extra tips that will help them to improve food allergen standard operating procedure.
- Provide food allergen information for each food item separately and clearly, rather than for the buffet as a whole.
Keep it simple. Imagine having to cope with an allergy and hoping to have a nice meal with your family, only to discover that you have to refer to a long list of allergies stipulated against various dish names. For those of us with a poor memory, this can be incredibly stressful – which dishes contained the peanuts again? Oh no, wait, that was the dish that contained dairy. We’re sure you can imagine the frustration. Making information clearly available as and when customers are looking to scoop something on their plate is the best way forward.
- Prevent food allergen cross-contamination by ensuring dishes and utensils are organised and used in specific ways. For example, make sure that scoops are used for one dish only.
More washing up perhaps, but far, far safer when it comes to serving customers who suffer from food allergies. Cross contamination is simply a danger when you are providing multiple food dishes as options to customers and it therefore requires stricter care and consideration.
How confident are you feeling about your business and its food allergen management? Are you in need of further assistance? Our food safety and hygiene experts can help any business to set in place the right food allergen standard operating procedure. Get in touch today to make your business an allergen-safe zone for your customers.
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