Operators must be allergen aware as they plan new offerings, particularly regarding grab-and-go items and delivery, The Caterer's virtual Allergens Spring Summit webinar heard.
Those gathered were told to ensure their allergen protocols adapt with changes to their offerings as businesses emerge from lockdown, and that information is communicated effectively with diners even as social distancing is maintained.
Chris Moore, HSE (food safety) director of Compass UK&I, said that the caterer's sites were already seeing an increased reliance on pre-packaged items to maintain social distancing, both front and back of house, with the business able to use labelling measures in line with forthcoming legislation changes.
Dominic Teague, executive chef of One Aldwych who has removed gluten and dairy from the hotel's Indigo restaurant, said his offering would need to be simplified in line with the expected restrictions, but that the reduction of customers may allow chefs to give more attention to working around complex allergies.
Michael Wright of the Food Standards Agency had said the coronavirus outbreak was not expected to delay the implementation of Natasha's Law, which is set to come into force from October 2021 and requires all food prepared for pre-packaged sale to list all ingredients and allergens.
Meanwhile, Jamie Cartwright, partner at Charles Russell Speechlys, and Julian Edward, founder of Allergen Accreditation, stressed that policies and labelling would only be effective if protocols were in place throughout businesses and communicated effectively to reassure customers.
Consultant paediatric allergist Dr Robert Boyle told those gathered that while there is a perception that the prevalence of allergies is on the rise, this may be predominantly due to increased diagnosis, as it is not reflected in the number of deaths being attributed to reactions to food.
While reassuring operators that fatal outcomes are rare, Dr Boyle stressed the impact allergies have on the lives of sufferers, including anxiety, feelings of social isolation and restrictions on diet, which can particularly difficult when eating out of home.
This was a message reinforced by campaigner and writer Ruth Holroyd, who has potentially life-threatening allergies to nuts and dairy among others. She explained the process she will go through when eating out, including contacting restaurants before visiting to discuss what she may be able to eat, arranging to visit during quieter periods and doing everything she can to ensure everyone involved in the preparation and serving of her meal has been notified.
Her measures have not always been successful and when her allergens have not been communicated and acted on, she has ended up in intensive care. She explained to operators that this experience had caused her to suffer from extreme anxiety. She said operators could help reassure customers by engaging with them, being proactive in thinking about how their needs can be catered for and sign-posting allergen-free meals as they emerge from the kitchen, whether through different-shaped plates or other measures.
Both Boyle and Holroyd stressed the anxieties that can prevent 15- to 25-year-olds in particular from discussing their allergies, with the latter saying the recent practice of asking all people entering venues if they have allergies was a good step forward in tackling this.
Attendees also heard about the importance of ensuring communication throughout their supply chains, and the ways technology can be embraced to achieve this from Bidfood and Access respectively.
The Allergens Spring Summit, sponsored by Bidfood and Access, is the latest in a series of 2020 summit events from The Caterer that bring together hospitality professionals to discuss game-changing ideas, industry best practice and new ways of working. Click here for further information regarding upcoming summits.