What is food safety?
Food safety is the practice of managing food in such a way that it is highly unlikely to cause harm (whether in the short term or the long term) to the health of anyone who consumes products that have been prepared, processed, stored, served, sold or distributed by a food business.
Everyone who works with food has a responsibility for protecting the health and well-being of consumers by safeguarding that food from anything that could cause harm.
What is meant by food allergy?
A rapid and potentially serious response of the body’s immune system to certain food or food additives that it mistakenly perceives as a threat. Some people experience allergic reactions to certain foods.
Therefore, a food that is perfectly safe for one person to eat may be extremely hazardous for another.
100% in the last decade the UK, for reasons not fully known, cases of food allergies have doubled. The UK is one of the top 3 countries in the world for incidence of allergies, with allergies affecting about a third of the population!
If there were poor food safety practices and someone suffered from a severe allergic reaction as a result the likely costs in terms
Costs for food businesses
- loss of reputation, leading to:
- reduced consumer confidence
- loss of business
- lower profits
- low staff morale
- high staff turnover
poor control of food, leading to:
- dissatisfied customers and complaints
- product recalls
- increased frequency of inspections (and a high risk rating)
- closure of the business
Costs for employees
- poor job security/loss of jobs – either because of the closure of the food premises or a loss of business
- poor working conditions (unpleasant and potentially unhealthy)
- damaged personal reputations if their workplace is known to have poor hygiene standards
Costs for consumers
- negative dining experiences
- Long term health problems
Any food can cause an allergic reaction, but some are more common causes than others.
These are the 14 food products identified as being the most common causes of food allergy within the EU
- celery (stalks, leaves, seeds, powder, celeriac, celeriac powder)
- molluscs (e.g. mussels, squid, oysters, whelks, land snails)
- cereals containing gluten (e.g. wheat, barley, rye, oats)
- mustard (liquid, paste, seeds, leaves, powder)
- crustaceans (e.g. prawns, lobster, scampi, crab)
- nuts (e.g. almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, macadamias)
- eggs (fresh, powdered, dried, pasteurised)
- peanuts (also called groundnuts; oil, butter, flour)
- fish (all species; extracts, sauces, oils, pastes, gelatine)
- sesame (seeds, oil, paste)
- lupin (lupin seeds may be eaten as a snack or crushed to make flour that is used in pastries, soups, sauces, pasta and bread)
- soybeans (sometime called soya and found in many different forms, e.g. tofu, flour and milk)
- milk (whey, caseinates(a protein found in milk) )
- sulphur dioxide and sulphites (preservatives used in some foods and drinks) at levels above 10mg per kg or per litre
Sometimes, an allergen will be obvious where it is presented in its original form, but identification may be difficult where allergens are ‘hidden’ in multi-ingredient products.
It is not always easy to tell from the name of a product whether it contains an allergen, so you should always check the label or product specification.
Under the Food Information Regulations 2014, allergens must be highlighted in the ingredients list using either a bold font or a different style, font or colour to draw attention to the allergens.
The name of an allergen must be stated next to an ingredient if the presence of the allergen is not obvious from the ingredient name, e.g. tofu (soya) or tahini paste (sesame).
As allergic reactions to food can be so severe, and often triggered by only a tiny amount of an allergen, there must be careful controls in place to keep allergenic ingredients separate from food designated as allergen-free during all stages of the food process.
Allergens cannot be controlled or removed by temperature, chemicals or washing/filtering.
Controls are available to help prevent allergenic contamination?
Consider controls for;
service and display
Controls for allergens: raw materials/ingredients
- use only reputable suppliers who can guarantee the status of their products and check deliveries against specifications
- check packaging is intact on delivery (risk of contamination from the surrounding environment)
- inspect goods on delivery
- maintain up-to-date allergen information on all raw materials/ingredients on site
- ensure raw materials containing allergens or allergenic ingredients are clearly labelled and stored in secure lidded containers (original containers, ideally, or keep a copy of any labelling information)
- ensure separate storage of raw materials that may contain allergens or allergenic ingredients, especially those that may spread easily such as peanuts, nuts, seeds, milk powder and flour
- ensure batch traceability for all raw materials and finished products
Controls for allergens: people
- provide allergen awareness and food hygiene training for staff to include product identification and measures to prevent cross-contamination (they must also know what to do if someone develops anaphylaxis)
- staff must wear clean protective clothing and decontaminate between contact with allergenic and non-allergenic food, washing hands
- regularly and after handling allergenic food
- control the movement of people through the premises
- provide visitor information
Controls for allergens: cleaning
- use dedicated/colour-coded cleaning equipment in areas likely to pose a risk of allergenic contamination
- clean up spillages of allergenic materials immediately with dedicated/colour-coded equipment
- do not clean near open food
- use an allergen-specific rapid cleanliness test to check cleaning is effective
Controls for allergens: service and display
- use separate serving platters/crockery
- lay out dishes in buffets or display cabinets in a way that will minimise the risk of allergen-free food being contaminated with ingredients from another dish, e.g. segregated display sections
- use separate colour-coded utensils for serving, and perhaps restrict self-service to control the risk of cross-contamination
- cover & clearly label food on display (with details of ingredients if necessary)
Controls for allergens: preparation/processing
- use separate equipment, utensils and preparation areas/surfaces for allergenic foods (or clean and disinfect them thoroughly between contact with allergens and contact with allergen-free food)
- wash hands thoroughly after touching allergens and before touching food designated as allergen-free
- change contaminated protective clothing before handling food designated as allergen-free
- use separation and disposal procedures for contaminated raw materials and finished products