A food allergy is an abnormal response of the body’s immune system that occurs soon after eating a specific food. Even a small amount – and in extreme cases simply being in the same space as an allergy-causing food – can trigger digestive problems, hives, or swollen airways. In some people, a food allergy can cause a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis, where the body goes into anaphylactic shock.
14 ingredients are identified by the UK Food Standards Agency as the most important allergens to identify. These are:
- Cereals containing gluten (wheat, barley, and oats)
- Crustaceans (prawns, crabs, and lobsters)
- Molluscs (mussels and oysters)
- Sulphur dioxide
- Sulphites (when the sulphur dioxide and sulphites are at a concentration of more than ten parts per million)
- Tree nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios, and macadamia nuts).
While there are certainly other foods that can cause an allergic reaction, these 14 are most common, and are required under the Food Law to have increased scrutiny and identification by restaurants and other foodservice institutions.
Protecting Consumers Against Food Allergies
Foodservice industries, including restaurants and cafes, and, have a responsibility to ensure customers with allergies are protected. To help protect consumers, laws and regulations have been implemented to mandate full disclosure of potential food allergens on food labels.
Passed in 2021, Natasha’s Law requires all prepackaged foods for direct sale (PPDS food) include a label that:
- Shows the name of the food
- Lists the ingredients in volume order
- Highlights (e.g., bold lettering) the 14 main allergens specified by the law
Owen’s Law Campaign
A campaign to pass Owen’s Law has recently been introduced to supplement Natasha’s Law. Named for 18-year-old Owen Carey, who died after eating at a London restaurant in 2017 when the buttermilk used to marinate chicken was not disclosed, the campaign seeks to make restaurant requirements for displaying allergen information stricter and avoid needless deaths in the future.
But ensuring food allergens are not present in a recipe is only one part of the equation. Avoiding cross-contamination with safe ingredients and food allergens is another. Each food allergy is different and must be treated as such. Food handlers and servers must be vigilant when avoiding cross-contamination, and upfront about their handling processes when communicating with customers.
Tasks in the kitchen to avoid cross-contamination include cleaning kitchen equipment thoroughly between each use, changing fryer oil, and prepping, cooking, or baking some items in a separate space or separate kitchen entirely.
NCCO Can Help Protect Against Food Allergies
Food producers can avoid food allergy disasters, and comply with Natasha and Owen’s Laws, with automated labelling systems like the DateCodeGenie®.
Printed food labels can be customized on a full-color touchscreen, and potential food allergens can be easily added to the labels to place on prep containers, food items, and to-go food packaging. Nutritional information can also be synced with other systems, like Erudus, to pull in data for allergen warnings, label designs and menu items so it does not need to be added by hand.
Food Allergen Labels are also available – including Allergen Alert labels that include all 14 allergens designated by Natasha’s Law – as are Allergen WaitRpads® for servers with designated sections and extra space to include guest allergen information and special orders or instructions.
The health and safety of customers is of the utmost importance in any foodservice establishment. NCCO is your allergen safety partner from the front of the house to the back.