An Anaphylactic rant!!
I need to talk about allergens because unfortunately I find myself consulting with clients who run pubs, restaurants or cafes’ and I keep hearing well meaning Managers telling me the same thing. They place the emphasis on the customer to tell them about their allergy. Whilst the Law and local authorities will agree that the customer is part of this situation, my disappointment lies with the business when I see poor policies about communication but they feel are adequate.
The title should warn you – I need to get something off my chest but before I do let’s look at why businesses must take their customers’ allergy very seriously.
The 2 links show what can happen through poor communication but in one story it ended up being catastrophic.
Imagine running a food business and your customer is dead hours later because of your policies or you simply forgot!! And I’m not talking about the fines, reputation to your business and potential manslaughter charges but how you would feel morally?
I feel my rant has started!!
In the UK there are 14 major allergens from food that are responsible for most reactions we see in the population and it is estimated that over 2.6 million adults have food allergies. I’ll let the figures speak for themselves but needless to say it’s certain they will include your customers. About 10 deaths are reported each year in the UK from a severe allergic reaction called Anaphylaxis
We offer the Level 3 Emergency First Aid course and ensure Anaphylaxis is discussed so that your staff know how to assist a customer who may not be able to help themselves.
The Law (I feel Food Business Owners don’t know about)
Food Allergen Laws are basically about providing information to consumers. Food Information Regulation 2014 (reg 5) enforces businesses to provide information that is “readily discernible.”
Earlier I expressed my disappointment with Food business owners with the way customers are encouraged to inform of their own allergy. Often menus are used and say something like – “Please consult a member of staff if you have any allergies.”
The amount of times I see this in small font at the bottom of a menu but any food offers are in large print and obvious. Time to do my rant voice. My message to business owners – SERIOUSLY !! It looks like you are putting profit over safety.
The 3 C’s of Allergen Safety
The 3 C’s is something I teach on Food Safety training courses- Contamination, Cleaning and Communication but since I am having a rant it’s – Communication, Communication, Communication!!. Afterall if that one isn’t working then good luck with the other two.
So lets rant on about communication – big breath!
Put simply, your communication should be focussed front of house to staff and customers and back of house to staff and suppliers.
- Menus are typically used to communicate to customers and serve as a reminder to talk to staff about your allergy. As I have already mentioned the message is often in small print so increase the font size and give more thought to where on the menu this should be placed. We read from left to right so it seems to me that your allergy message should be on the left side and I think it should be one of the first things a customer should read.
- If your menu is choc a bloc with tempting offers resulting in a tiny squeezed message about allergies then instead add a tent card (easy to clean too) that asks customers to discuss their allergy. Place it stand alone for maximum attention and then between customers staff are trained to replace it back where it can be easily seen (not amongst menus and condiments etc).
- Use your staff to remind customers to think allergy. How easy is that and yet I rarely see it. (I feel my rant voice coming on). Whilst taking a drinks order or explaining ordering procedures to customers you can embed a reminder about allergies. Whether this is directing them to the notice on the menus or the tent card you made. By the time you’ve directed customers to the menu or card you may as well say something like – “Whilst you’re deciding what to choose from the menu could I just draw your attention to this tent card?” “If you need to talk to us about any food allergies I’d be happy to help”
This approach reinforces the training and keeps the staff pro-active.
- For buffets it’s a must that everything has its own label clearly displayed for customers to read.
- How many seconds does it take to pull a pint of beer? That’s the amount of time you have to bring up the allergy question for any customers ordering food over the bar. Easy!! Unfortunately, when consulting with businesses I keep getting told that they don’t have time for that. Seriously ? But you always have time to ask a customer if the wine they want is a large or the gin a double. I’ll say it again, is sounds like you are putting profit over safety.
Check your EPOS system, can it be programmed to list the ingredients in each meal?
- In kitchens I often see a large recipe matrix displayed on a wall. The 14 allergens listed and the meals you serve with a simple tick against each allergen if it is in that meal. Of course keep this updated if you change the recipe, use a wipeable board. Even large print signs in the dry store put onto food storage containers saying- Think Allergen!
- Chef’s cards are a great way to communicate to the front of house staff. The waiting staff can take these to customers and see al of the ingredients themselves.
- With your suppliers what diligence do you have on them? There’s no reason why you should audit their business as part of the process when choosing a supplier in the first place. No doubt you will be focussed on the price of their products but remember what I said earlier about putting profit over safety. When auditing a supplier ask to see their staff training, cleaning procedures, how they stop contamination etc. They should be happy to show you this if they are reputable. Do a Google search to check they don’t show up in the news. In particular I would want to know how they deal with making changes with their recipes and how that is communicated to you (if it even is). Maybe these changes are on their website?
Staff must have food safety training and allergies should have been discussed however it is possible not enough time was spent on allergy controls especially if staff attended a half day awareness course. Remember training is an on going process and shouldn’t stop just because staff have a certificate. Businesses should capture their communication with their staff as part of their diligence in any case so embedding in discussion on allergens is vital in my opinion.
Whilst employed in Hotel Management I would allocate a 15 minute slot when I knew we had quiet time, this was typically between a breakfast and lunch shift. I would have all staff in a group “huddle” with 1 or 2 topics to discuss (often with some delights from the breakfast buffet and fresh coffee for all staff attending). So when is your quiet time… probably just before you open your doors to customers? I’d highly recommend you use that time to focus on your staff. Use this time to talk about allergies and remind them of their responsibilities (placing of the tent cards, talking to customers etc). Ask staff questions to check they understand and remember to capture this and ask all attendees to sign. It really is that simple. I reject some opinions that this is just a paper exercise. Instead think of the positives that can come out of the time you just spent with your staff (and hopefully they will remember those treats and fresh coffee you prepared for them all). It’s about creating a health and safety culture and the morality of protecting people.
Let’s stop and think for a moment! You created a Word document to capture the staff training in your team huddle and talked about staff procedures for allergens over 15 minutes. Was that worth it?
I really do hope you appreciate my message on the importance of communication with allergen controls. Keep the conversation on going and it will become your normal.
Oh and the answer to the beer question earlier in the blog is….. 10 seconds.