Anyone who has worked in a professional kitchen knows just how important allergen management is and it’s always part of any food handling certificate. There have been a number of high-profile cases where businesses have got allergen management wrong with terrible consequences and as a result, there have been recent changes to food allergen labelling requirements in 2021. With food allergies rising in Australia and growing pressure on food businesses to have a clear allergen management plan, we take a look at what you need to know about allergens and food safety.

What are allergens?

Allergens are substances found in all kinds of products that cause an allergic reaction in an individual. These reactions can range anywhere from an itchy rash to fatal anaphylaxis so it’s very important to take them seriously and take steps in your food business to address allergens. Allergic reactions are most common in babies and children but can last for a lifetime and it’s important that food manufacturers, retailers and producers take them seriously.

The most common allergens

Though people can be allergic to anything, there are common allergens that need to be labelled if they are in food, according to Australian Food Standards. Some of the most common allergens include:

– Eggs
– Sesame
– Milk
– Lupin
– Wheat
– Peanuts
– Gluten
– Soybeans
– Fish
– Nuts
– Shellfish

If a food business is serving items that contain any of these, it must be clearly labelled and declared. When handling these ingredients, it’s crucial that staff maintain proper food hygiene principles, including handwashing, cleaning up spillages and preventing cross-contamination.

Preventing allergic reactions

According to the NSW Government Food Authority, 1 in 10 infants currently has a food allergy as well as 2 in 100 adults, so it is a very real concern that needs to be addressed by food manufacturers, catering companies and restaurants. One of the most important ways food businesses can avoid causing allergic reactions is through storing ingredients in sealed, labelled containers which are separated from each other. Other steps which food businesses can take include cleaning utensils thoroughly before they are used, changing cooking oil, keeping ingredients that are allergens separate and keeping full records of ingredients in every dish.

What are the obligations of food businesses?

If you own a food business, it is your responsibility to correctly label and provide information about all of the ingredients used in your products. In Australia, the Food Standards Code requires any food suppliers to declare whether there is a common allergen present in foods and that full allergen information is displayed or available on request. It also means you need to have effective strategies in place to handle and manage food allergens in the kitchen. Staff should also complete food allergy training or take an online food safety certification course.

Recent changes to allergen rules

As of 25th February 2021, the Food Standards Code has set new requirements to make labelling the most common allergens a legal obligation. Clearer labelling is designed to make it easier for people with allergens to make safe food choices and it’s important that an accurate record of ingredients is kept, no matter what type of food business you run. There are three years for food businesses to transition to the new rules. Businesses who don’t declare allergens or falsely declare something is allergen-free can be reported for breaking the law. If food isn’t packaged it needs to have information about allergens displayed and a food business should also be able to provide full information about food allergens if a customer requests it.

Maintaining an allergen-free environment

If businesses claim to offer allergen-free products it’s essential that they stick to strict monitoring processes and ensure no contamination. Any ingredients which contain allergens, like flour, mayonnaise or peanut butter should be clearly labelled and kept separate from other food. It can be a good idea to have a separate storage area for allergen-free items, like gluten-free bread to ensure they aren’t contaminated or that a different item containing the allergen is used by accident. It’s important that someone in the business is responsible for ensuring allergen compliance and that staff know where to get information if asked by a customer.

Book a course

If you need to brush up on your food handling knowledge or you’re looking to become a food safety supervisor, the Australian Institute of Accreditation has a wide range of food safety courses available online. Book a food handling certificate course today to enhance your knowledge of food safety and make sure you’re compliant with all of the latest food hygiene regulations.