Allergen management in food businesses
Food allergy is very serious, causing illness and death
Food allergies occur in around 1 in 20 children and 2 in 100 adults. The most severe allergic reaction is known as anaphylaxis – which is potentially life threatening.
Even very small amounts of an allergen in food can trigger a reaction. The most common allergens, responsible for 90% of allergic reactions are:
- tree nuts (almonds, brazil nut, cashew, hazelnut, macadamia, pecan, pine nut, pistachio, walnut)
- milk (dairy)
Information about added sulphites (in amounts greater than 10mg/Kg) and cereals containing gluten must also be listed on the label or made known to the customer.
Consumers have a legal right to receive written or verbal information on allergen content if they ask for it when buying food. This is a requirement of the Food Act 2003 and the Food Standards Code. Penalties for falsely describing food which causes harm to a person may result in large fines or a jail term of up to two years.
Be honest and be accurate, take food allergy seriously. A food business is not obliged to provide an allergen free meal to a customer unless the business agrees to.
In food service
Be prepared, train all staff and food handlers about food allergies and the consequences of serving up a contaminated meal to an allergic customer. Have a procedure and policies in place for food requests made by allergic customers. For some businesses, this may mean that they advise customers they are unable to cater for special dietary requirements.
Regularly check your supplier’s ingredient labels as these can change over time. Look for hidden allergens in commonly used ingredients e.g. vegetable oil containing peanuts. Store ingredients carefully and stick to the recipes when making food. Remember, if you re-use oil for deep frying be sure it has not been used to cook allergen containing foods.
All staff should be aware when an allergen free meal is being prepared. This helps minimise cross-contamination risks. Even tiny amounts of contaminants can cause an allergic reaction.
When preparing an allergen safe meal ensure the preparation area and all equipment in contact with the food is thoroughly cleaned with a clean cloth and warm soapy water. This includes grills, pots and pans. Some businesses choose to use dedicated equipment for the preparation of certain allergen free meals.
Wash your hands and always use clean gloves. Put on a clean apron.
Carry the allergen free meal out to the customer without other meals, to prevent any cross contamination from spillages from one plate to another.
Ensure the right meal goes to the right person
What to do if a customer has an anaphylactic reaction
A person’s allergic reaction may get worse over time, or the more often they are exposed to an allergen. An allergic reaction can happen very quickly after eating.
A person suffering from anaphylaxis may have:
- difficult/noisy breathing and/or cough
- swelling of tongue, lips, eyes, face
- hives or welts
- pale and floppy (young children)
- difficulty talking and/or hoarse voice
- dizziness or collapse.
Acting quickly can save a person’s life. If you think a person is having an allergic reaction:
- Call an ambulance, dial 000 and advise the operator of a possible anaphylactic reaction and follow any instructions the ambulance operator gives.
- Lay the person flat or allow the person to sit on the ground. Don’t allow them to walk around because they might collapse. If they are unconscious place them in the recovery position.
- Follow the customers Action Plan for anaphylaxis if they have one with them.
Food on display for sale
Food for sale must show allergen information:
- on or in connection with the display of food, or
- by providing information about food allergens in the food if asked by a customer.
For more information
- Free online food allergy training for food handlers and useful resources are available from the National Allergy Strategy
- Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s food allergy portal
- Speak to your local Council’s Environmental Health Officer.
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