Insight from the experts, Part 2

With new allergen regulations imminent, Brookwood’s Sue Parfett explains their meaning for school caterers, and asks: ‘What is lupin seed?’

Have you ever noticed that when new regulations come in you suddenly get all this communication from people who want to “help”. Often the approach is to scare you into spending enormous amounts of money buying their solution.

The 2011 allergen regulations will apply from December 2014 to all food and drink served outside the home. For Brookwood, this means not only dining rooms but includes working lunches, buffets, packed lunches and even refreshments served on sports fields. All of these circumstances mean we have to have information about the 14 specified allergens available. Luckily, as we are catering in schools, the likelihood is that we are all used to managing allergies. However, the allergen regulations come at this from a different angle. One look at the information available from an internet search would have most caterers heading for the hills.

However, once you get your head around the subject, the catering department’s requirements become clear. Organisations like ours have the back-up of the British Hospitality Association (BHA), which is a fantastic help when it comes to new regulations. They understand that caterers’ need all the ‘fog and mirrors’ removed and practical action put into plain English.

The BHA’s John Dyson said: “Guidance on compliance is essential, provided it is practical and we at the BHA have produced a Q&A document, interpretation of what the regulations mean and a simple guidance document to help caterers comply. Please be aware that some companies will try and tell you that you need to analyse your recipes at great cost. This is not the case because it is about allergen information for consumers, not nutritional analysis.”

To some people certain ingredients are life and death, and a simple slip-up can cause a major problem. In a case where I was involved as a young caterer, a supplier’s change of green curry paste from one without nuts to one with nuts wasn’t noticed until a pupil went into anaphylactic shock. She thought, from previous experience, she could eat this dish and no one on service was any the wiser. Fortunately, she carried an epi-pen and recovered.

Suppliers have a legal responsibility to advise customers about the allergens in their products. As we can suspect that small companies may be slow to pick up these requirements, we all should pay particular attention to our smaller suppliers. An employee who makes a snap decision to add an ingredient can create a catastrophe. And what about these authentic food pastes imported from outside the EU?

Coming back to the catering department, the critical points are the ones where humans and all their attitudes and emotions are involved. So the emphasis on training and the approach taken by the employees’ leaders and managers has more influence than posters. Brookwood employs front-of-house personnel largely because they want to be helpful. In the case of allergen information they need to be trained to not try and give advice unless they know it to be 100 per cent true. There has to be someone always available who knows where the allergens are and can tell an enquiring diner what is safe for them to consume. This, of course, has to be backed up by a due diligence process that tracks ingredients from the back door to the service.

Coming back to the critical question I have been asked over and over again. Lupins have been increasingly cultivated for their seeds, which are more like a bean. It is used both in livestock feed and human consumption. In food manufacturing it is added for its many nutritional benefits, especially in vegetarian products. When ground to a flour it creates a creamy texture and improves colour – so many readymade pastry and bread products, and even ice cream, can contain it. However, it is increasingly being identified for its life-threatening anaphylaxis in sensitive individuals.

Now you know.

W: www.brookwoodpartnership.com

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