New allergen regulations: communication is key to success

12th Dec 2014

Over the past two years, since the announcement of the new legislation, UK food service providers have been gearing up for the new EU Allergen Regulations. Now that these are upon us, from December 13th 2014, all food manufacturers, mass caterers, and catering outlets must be on track to meet their legal obligation and duty of care to the public by accurately recording and communicating to the public the 14 most common foods that cause allergic reactions.

With the most significant impact of, and major responsibility for, implementing the new regulations falling on the shoulders of the food service industry, communication has been identified, by food industry professional bodies, as a key contributor to success.

Heralding the new legislation at an internal launch event, Mark Nelson, Director of Service Development for OCS’s catering service in the UK, who has led the team ensuring the company’s compliance ahead of the new rules, commented: “The financial impact and reputational loss, should businesses be seen to be failing in their duty to implement the new regulation, threatens to be huge with potential fines of £5k for an incident of non-compliance. So this needs to be taken very seriously. The food service industry is heavily reliant on staff passing on 100 per cent accurate information about allergens in non-packaged foods, which increases the likelihood of human error. The quality and reliability of up-to-date information, and training are therefore essential ingredients in ensuring staff can effectively share knowledge with customers.”

The British Hospitality Association (BHA) estimates that around one million people need to be trained on the new regulations, and OCS has been steadily preparing the foundations for this. A new software system contains the nutritional information for every single ingredient used across 300 client sites in the UK, ensuring complete transparency of every ingredient in the supply chain which can be easily, and accurately, communicated to customers. A range of publicity material has been created about the allergen regulations, explaining to staff everything they need to know about the new rules and how OCS is adapting to this, including communication with staff and customers. A bespoke training programme has been introduced with super-users who are trained to share knowledge with their teams in weekly sessions. And, says Nelson: “Communication is most effective when it is presented in a variety of ways, and we work with many people for whom English is their second language, so we have produced posters which will be displayed on customer to give easily accessible, at-a-glance information.”

Nelson gave some top tips for effective communication of the new regulations: 

• Ensure your staff have accurate, up-to-date information on the ingredients in menus and in products from suppliers
• Ensure staff have easily accessible information presented in a variety of ways
• Provide regular training for staff, especially those who are customer-facing
• Consider using a main point of contact or super-user for training or communicating information to customers
• Look at how others are doing it and share best practice information
• Provide clearly displayed, easily understandable information at point of sale.

“It is imperative for organisations to back the changes to the best of their ability,” adds Nelson, “not only to reduce business risk but also to help minimise the human cost of non-compliance. Around 10 cases hit the UK news each year of deaths caused by severe anaphylactic allergen shock and many more go unreported. The number of recognised deaths, caused by the unsuspected consumption of allergens in food from restaurants, schools, colleges and takeaways, should also motivate the food industry to take action.”

Comprehensive guidelines for implementing the new allergen regulations can be found on the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and BHA website.


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