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Allergen rules – a refresher

It’s now over a year on since the allergen rules for non-prepacked foods went live. We understand many of you will already be practising allergy friendly childcare and demonstrate this is a variety of ways, but with the New Year we thought now’s a great time to have a quick refresher (don’t worry this doesn’t have to mean more paperwork!) So we got in touch with our friends at the Food Standards Agency to give you a simple reminder and some top tips for your business.

The levels of food allergy and intolerance are higher in children than in adults; and children need help from adults like you to make those important life-saving decisions.

The legislation requires all food businesses, including childminders providing food, to make available information on the presence of 14 specific allergens, where used as an ingredient in food. This allergen information must be easily accessible to guardians or parents and must be accurate, consistent and verifiable. It is also essential to ensure that it can be updated easily when required.

The legislation in practice

Since December 2014 when the allergens legislation went live we’ve seen lots of businesses and organisations which have innovated to provide better service and care for those with an allergy or intolerance. 

Dawn Heaps, childminder and local Facilitator told PACEY about her experience: “I always asked parents about possible food allergies before the new legislation and had cared for several children with severe allergies or intolerances.

“I now have a more specific form listing the 14 allergens as well as a general section for things that may not be listed such as fruits. I have a section in my parents info file that lists all the meals I prepare for the children with possible allergens ticked off next to each meal that I do add to every time I try something new such as a recently added lamb curry dish….

“I have to add that my Ofsted inspector did ask about it at my last inspection and really liked the way I had incorporated the new legislation into my existing parent info.”

Each setting has their own way of doing things and it’s all about what works for you. The Food Standards Agency worked closely with PACEY to help make things as simple as possible to demonstrate. Check out the food menu template you can download for free alongside the allergen stickers PACEY offer, plus the allergen resources we have on our website.

Handling allergens

As well as providing allergen ingredients information you must also remember to handle allergens or foods with allergens very carefully. Unlike bacteria, allergens cannot be cooked out, so knowing what is in the food you are providing, is key.

Top tips to help

Here are some top tips for businesses, to help deal with allergen dietary requests:

  • When someone asks if a food contains a particular allergen, make sure the info you provide is correct – always check the ingredients and never guess
  • List allergens and make sure this information is up to date
  • When cooking, make sure you know what’s in the ingredients - are you changing the recipe or any ingredients you use?
  • If there are changes to allergen information for the dishes provided ensure you record this so people can be told when needed
  • Think about cooking oils, marinades, dressings, toppings, sauces and garnishes – are you adding any allergens?
  • If you are making food for someone with an allergy clean work surfaces, wash your hands before preparing the food.
  • Avoid cross-contamination by using separate utensils etc.

Parents of children with food allergy have the responsibility to let you know about their condition to enable you to make safe food choices on their behalf.

Christine Emery, childminder and PACEY Local Facilitator has also found advantages in the food labelling changes: “I look after a child who is coeliac. The food labelling makes my life so much easier because wheat is clearly identified now before I had to read through every ingredient looking for wheat (and it was very often in very small writing) now I just have to look for the ingredients that are in bold*.”

Ignorance is no excuse – make a new year’s resolution

Food businesses can no longer say they ‘don’t know’ what is in their meal OR refuse to serve those with allergies or intolerances, and they will have to have safe processes in place to provide this information rather than guessing or basing information on recall.

Allergen information can be provided in a number of methods, such as via recipe sheets, specification sheets or scrap book with labels of the ingredients.

It can be hard to have a small business and no one to speak to or get information from; to raise awareness we need to keep on talking about food allergy and the rules and share experiences.

The FSA has a valuable resource of information available for use to understand what food allergy and intolerance is about and what you can do to meet the requirements of the law.

People have really stepped up to the mark and have shared how they have innovated and demonstrated how they have ensured safe food is provided to those in their care.

Share with us your experiences and how you have made your childcare allergy friendly on social media channels Facebook or Twitter using #14allergens.

You can use the free templates and tools that the FSA has made available. These include training resources which can help with training, as well as templates to collect, record and report allergen information. There is also a fun Allergy Adventures poster to help children understand food allergy. 

You can also find specific information for childminders here.

*It should be noted that not all food manufacturers will choose to use bold as a form of emphasis.

About the author

Dr. Chun-Han Chan is the Senior Scientific Officer in the Food Allergy Branch leading on Food Allergen Legislation and Risk Assessment at the Food Standards Agency. She can be reached on Twitter @ChunHanChan

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