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Understanding food allergens

Food allergies are an increasing fact of life that must be addressed by kitchen and restaurant managers with a professional food safety strategy. The law requires it, and customers expect it. Fildes Food Safety aims to provide helpful information to the food service industry with respect to best practices for safeguarding customers from allergens that may cause harm.

Allergy or Intolerance?

Food allergies cause the immune system to react negatively to specific proteins. Anaphylaxis is the most severe and well-known, leaving sufferers gasping for air and perhaps resulting in death. Food intolerance, on the other hand, does not engage the immune system. When the gut cannot digest certain meals, it develops food intolerances, which can cause discomfort but are not life-threatening.

Labelling Common Allergens

The following ingredients are recognised by Food Standards Australia as being high-risk allergens. In every commercial kitchen, they must be clearly labelled, and staff must be trained to prepare them safely. It is also safest to disclose when these allergens are present in restaurant menus so that customers can make an informed decision when ordering.

  • Peanuts
  • Tree Nuts
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Fish
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Shellfish
  • Lupin
  • Soy
  • Wheat

Symptoms of Allergic Reactions

The effects of allergic reactions range from mild to extreme, with more than 80 deaths annually. Recognising the immediate symptoms of allergic reactions is essential to provide prompt medical attention. The most common reactions include:

  • Swelling of the tongue and throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness leading to collapse
  • Persistent cough
  • Hoarse voice
  • Vomiting
  • Wheezing
  • Hives
  • Facial swelling
  • Tingling sensations around the lips and mouth

The Dangers of Cross-Contamination 

An effective preventative plan must be devised to avoid enabling traces of allergens to be transported accidentally from one food processing location to another. Colour-coded chopping boards and utensils for distinct food types are used in kitchens to control this successfully. Uncooked meats are to be prepared on a red board, veggies on green, and poultry on yellow. Cross-contamination can be eliminated if this system is strictly followed.

Employee Training

Untrained employees will be less likely to notice potential food allergy hazards. A great way to create a food safety culture is to create a calendar of training events to guarantee your professional kitchen maintains its reputation for quality and protects public safety.

As a result of successful training, staff should know the common allergens and which meals they are present in and follow food-safe processes such as sanitising containers and utensils.

It is also recommended that restaurants place food allergy charts around the food preparation area and request diners disclose any allergens they may react to in their menu. Ultimately, the restaurant staff's responsibility is always to be truthful when responding to customer enquiries and develop systems, so patrons with allergies are never compromised.

Safe food preparation and cooking practices should be the backbone of all commercial kitchens. Fildes Food Safety offers a range of products designed to assist in creating and maintaining systems that protect customers against food allergen reactions, including a handy allergen kit and food labels.

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