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"It's Just A Rash"

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Many catering professionals do not realise how serious an allergic reaction can be or how easily one may be triggered in a susceptible customer.

For example, some sufferers are so sensitive to peanut allergens, an attack may be triggered just by contact with the skin or inhalation.

In August of last year, a four-year-old child went into anaphylactic shock and lost consciousness on an aircraft returning from the Canary Islands after a passenger opened a packet of nuts a few rows away.

Fortunately, a fellow passenger was medically trained and administered an adrenaline injection that returned her to consciousness. She was left with a swollen tongue and blistered lips and was subsequently hospitalised upon landing at Stanstead.

The effect on the child through inhaling the dust from the nuts was made worse because of the recycled conditioned air in the aircraft but it just goes to show the dangers of releasing potential allergens in a confined space such as an airplane or a restaurant.

It is not only nuts that may cause a problem in a confined space. Fish protein can become airborne in the steam released during cooking and may be a risk to highly-susceptible people.

Unfortunately, when it comes to allergies and allergens, restaurant staff can be well-meaning but are generally uninformed.

In two recent studies, more than 20% of restaurant workers who responded thought that it would be OK for a customer with an allergy to eat a 'small amount' of the food in question.

This is completely wrong.

Almost 40% were under the impression that a glass of water would be sufficient to alleviate an allergic reaction.

It isn't.

More than 25% thought that rinsing hands or tabletops with plain water or antibacterial hand wash is sufficient to remove any trace of food allergens.

This is not the case.

Since the Food Information for Consumers Regulation came into force in December of last year, you are required to warn your customer if any dish on your menu contains one or more of the fourteen major food allergens covered by the legislation. You also owe your customers a duty of care and it is essential to ensure that your staff are capable of providing them with any information they ask for.

We have just published an ebook called The Professional Caterer's Allergen Handbook, which explains how the legislation affects your business and suggests measures that you can take to protect your customers and yourself.

If you would like a free copy, email me at

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