ALLERGEN INFORMATION - THE LEGAL REQUIREMENTS
As a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, some food businesses are making major changes to the way in which they operate. Previously only serving food on their premises, they are now offering a home delivery or takeaway service.
The benefits of such a move include continued customer interaction, providing the local community with a welcome service during the lockdown period, as well as creating a new revenue stream for the business.
But when it comes to food allergens, it is important to be aware of some differences in the way that this information should be presented to the customer. So, if you are one of the restaurants, cafes, coffee shops or other catering establishments that have taken this step, the following guidance will help you keep your customers safe and comply with the latest allergen information regulation.
PROVIDE ALLERGEN INFORMATION AT THE RIGHT TIME
For food that is going to be delivered, you must ensure that the customer is able to access the allergen information before they place their order.
It is then vital that this information is provided again at the point of delivery; essentially giving the customer a second opportunity to check which allergens are in each product before consumption.
In both cases, the information can be provided in written form (on the website or on a printed menu as examples) or orally (over the phone or by the person delivering the food) - but the customer must be able to identify each item within the delivery and marry up the allergen information for each.
- Is your online allergen information clear, accurate and easily accessible when customers are ordering food?
- When the order is delivered to the customer, is it clear which allergens are in which meal?
ENSURE ALLERGEN INFORMATION IS ACCURATE, CONSISTENT & VERIFIABLE
The regulation states that the allergen information you provide must be accurate, consistent and verifiable. This means you must have a system in place to ensure that every team member providing allergen information:
Provides the same allergen information; so it doesn’t matter who the customer speaks to
Is able to check that the allergen information is correct; by looking at the original packaging of the relevant ingredients, for example, or checking details provided by the supplier.
- Do you have accurate, written information you can refer to when asked about allergens?
KNOW HOW TO RESPOND TO CUSTOMERS WITH ALLERGIES
You must also think about how to deal with customers telling you that they have an allergy - and whether you can cater for them safely or not.
If you have any concerns about potential cross-contamination risks from allergens within your kitchen or food preparation areas, you should consider how to warn your customers.
Even if this is something that was addressed as part of your original business model, it is important to review whether anything has changed now that you are working in a different way. For example, could cross-contamination occur after the food has left the kitchen or before delivery?
- When an order comes in from a customer with specific allergies, do you have a clear process in place for how to deal with their request?
- Is there a nominated team member that is trained specifically to manage requests from customers with specific allergies?
COMMUNICATE CLEARLY AND EFFECTIVELY
It is vital that everyone who works for your business - in any capacity - is fully aware of what is required in terms of providing allergen information. This means that the issues and corresponding actions need to be communicated to every team member.
There also needs to be an equally robust chain of communication within your business. This system should ensure that any allergy related information provided by the customer is relayed at every touch point; from the person taking the initial order, right through to the one making the final delivery.
For the allergy sufferer, transparency and open communication is critical. So if you identify any cross-contamination risks, ensure you and your team are crystal clear on how to communicate this essential information.
- How do you record a customer's allergy information and clearly communicate this to the rest of the team
- How do you communicate cross-contamination risks to customers with allergies?
CONSEQUENCES OF GETTING IT WRONG
Providing inaccurate or misleading allergen information could have serious health implications for your customer – remember that any of the 14 declarable food allergens listed within the regulation have the potential to cause a fatal allergic reaction.
If you are failing to provide correct information in the right format and at the right time, you could be found to be in breach of the regulation, which may result in legal action being taken against you and your business.
ACCESS FURTHER INFORMATION
Adapting your business to focus on food deliveries and takeaways is likely to involve wider requirements that you may not currently be aware of, but need to address. Make sure you are fully informed by accessing additional guidance from the Food Standards Agency website here.
The RSSL Food Safety team are here to support you with Allergen Management, if you require any help or further information please contact us on +44 (0)118 918 4000 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.