Adapting to the new EU allergen regulations

Jerry Brand says independent schools have a great responsibility to manage the impact of allergens legislation

There has been much debate this year around the impact that the new allergens legislation are having on schools in terms of daily management and the impact that it is having on their already-stretched catering teams. We’ve seen celebrity chefs signing petitions suggesting that the new legislation is hampering innovation and creativity in the kitchen, and we also uncovered some interesting statistics ourselves in a recent independent survey we commissioned across the catering sector, where we discovered that a whopping 98 percent admit to having concerns about managing the new legislation.

One of the biggest concerns for independent schools is the possibility of catering staff giving out incorrect allergens information to pupils at meal times, which could have serious consequences. A further concern is the sheer volume of data to manage as well as keeping on top of allergens advice on a daily basis.

Making mistakes and getting hefty fines is another concern for schools, which shows how much uncertainty there is in the sector. Recently, the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) also issued final guidance on allergens laws relating to exemptions, giving catering teams yet more information to manage and digest. The final guidance explains the FDA’s thinking on the submission of petitions and notifications for obtaining exemptions from labelling requirements for major food allergens under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act).

School catering teams, suppliers and manufacturers are having to adapt to lots of changes right now because unless they want some pretty hefty fines coming through their door, not to mention run the risk of putting pupils’ lives in danger – they have little choice. Last year it was all about getting ready for the impending deadline, now it’s about keeping your head above the water for what can be a very serious issue if it goes wrong.

Ensuring staff and pupils get the correct allergens information is vital and can be a matter of life and death in some cases, so it’s understandable that this is a concern for many schools. Equally, keeping on top of that advice daily can be a huge drain on resource and this is where the real, ongoing worries lie for catering teams and their suppliers. But having the right processes and plans in place in the first instance is a good starting point.

School catering teams need to start to build a bank of recipes on their systems and an allergen directory that contains all of the required information easily to hand for any pupils who wish to know. Creating peace of mind through initial compliance will ensure that creativity and innovation is allowed to thrive in the school kitchen but in a sensible and controlled way that is safe for everyone.

Benefiting from the intervention of fit-for-purpose technology will also alleviate the detail involved in managing allergens legislation (and of course, the time it takes on a daily basis). Technology has thankfully progressed to a point where it is now entirely possible for schools to manage the burden of these new regulations on a daily basis without having a direct impact on the catering team in terms of the level of the time and resource needed to manage it efficiently and keep on top of any future changes.

Schools can also keep costs down by using a technology system that incorporates live supplier pricing and online procurement. That way, the product updates, recipe and stock costing is all automatic. The key is to recognise the impact that allergens legislation will have on your school, deal with it and plan around it.

Jerry Brand is Managing Director at Caternet.

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