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Spot checks

Trading Standards officers are increasingly carrying out spot checks to ensure shops are abiding by the law when it comes to catering to customers with food allergies

In the UK, an estimated two million people are living with a diagnosed food allergy, around 1-2% of the population. However, this rises to 5-8% in children, with the most common ingredients causing a reaction being milk, eggs, nuts, fish and shellfish.

While the number of deaths is considered low - around 10 a year - recent cases in which two teenagers died after unknowingly eating dishes containing sesame and peanuts has put the issue firmly in the spotlight with calls to change the law on food labelling as a result. In one of these cases, the owner and manager of the takeaway involved were both jailed for five years for manslaughter, which shows mistakes can have major implications for all involved.

It’s no coincidence then that we’re hearing more and more reports of Trading Standards officers, posing as customers with food allergies, taking samples away for analysis.

If they find unsatisfactory results, action will be taken and this may include removing the food from the market and advising the business on how to achieve compliance. In some instances, enforcement action such as prosecution or cautions may be appropriate. In addition to protecting the public, this action also aims to prevent economic or other detriment and improve levels of compliance.

Several fish and chip shops have already been subject to these spot checks, with samples of their gluten free options being the focus. We’re pleased to report no allergens were present, however, a recent undercover sampling conducted by Trading Standards teams from Wigan Council was not so positive. Of the 10 takeaways sampled - all of which were from curry houses - six failed allergy testing. The failures were believed to be due to cross-contamination or that chefs were not reading the ingredient labels properly.

While it’s been law now for almost five years to supply allergen information, some shops are still falling foul and that’s who these spot checks aim to find. So make sure you are catering to customers with dietary requirements correctly. Have practices and procedures in place to ensure there is no cross-contamination at any point, regularly review them and train all your staff in how to handle requests for allergen information; not just those in the kitchen, but everyone involved in taking, handling and delivering that order into the hands of the customer. Get it right and you’re not just protecting your customers but your business also.

The Food Standards Agency has a host of resources available to help fish and chip shops at www.food.gov.uk/allergen-resources

Go the extra mile
You should have clear signposting letting customers know where to obtain allergen information, but why not also put a sign up inviting customers to ask for allergen information if they need it. Also, ensure staff are confident enough to ask customers if they have any dietary requirements

What to do if you think a customer is having a severe allergic reaction:
• Do not move them
• Ring 999 and ask for an ambulance with a paramedic straight away
• Explain that your customer could have anaphylaxis (pronounced ‘anna- ll-axis’)
• Send someone outside to wait for the ambulance
• If the customer has an adrenalin or Epi-pen, help them to get it.
Source: Food Standards Agency


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