Food allergies and intolerances affect around 8% of children and 2% of adults in the UK – and the numbers are on the rise. Under EU law, food businesses are required to provide allergy information on all of the food they sell but for many caterers, it’s still a bit of a minefield. To coincide with Allergy Awareness Week (April 25-May 1), we’re shining a spotlight on allergens to help chefs cater better for food allergy sufferers.

Food allergies – the facts
• There are around 2 million people living in the UK with a food allergy
• In the last decade, the cases of food allergies have doubled and the number of hospitalisations caused by severe allergic reactions has increased seven-fold
• Around 10 people in the UK die from allergic reactions to food every year due to undeclared allergenic ingredients

Staff training Legislation around allergen labelling means that manufacturers in the EU have to flag if food contains one or more of 14 specified ingredients. This can range from obvious ingredient use such as egg being present in pasta, through to more obscure instances such as the inclusion of anchovies in Worcestershire sauce.

Matt White, chair of The University Caterers Organisation, says: “To ensure all bases are covered, there are a few organisational steps which caterers can take. First, it needs to be clear what constitutes an allergen. This education should be done through regular staff training as everyone from front of house to kitchen chefs will need this information at their fingertips. It’s a good idea to refresh this when menus change and make it very clear when new dishes are introduced.”

Education sector The challenges facing education caterers in relation to allergens differ greatly – but it needn’t mean creating an entirely different menu. Aine Melichar, brand manager for Kerrymaid, explains: “With the FIR allergen legislation that came into place in December 2014, school caterers have to be 100% confident what ingredients are being served to pupils. The most common allergen is lactose, which usually presents itself around the age of five years old. Some studies suggest lactose intolerance peaks between the ages of 10 and 16, making it particularly relevant within school kitchens.”

Kerrymaid’s education brand ambassador Jeanette Orrey MBE has the following advice:
• Produce a standard form that can be completed by parents or carers detailing the child’s allergy and attach a photo
• Make details of each child’s dietary requirements easily accessible to teachers, dinner ladies and any dining room attendants
• Ensure ingredients follow the exact recipe and all staff are aware of the allergens in each dish
• Ensure allergens are clearly displayed on menu lists, be it blackboards, menu cards or weekly print out

Managing individual needs Using a board to display the picture and name of the allergy sufferer will help staff recognise individuals and ensure a process is in place from the kitchen to server to diner. Individuals aged 15–25 years old are considered a high-risk group as they often want to be seen as ‘normal’ in front of their peers. Ensure staff understand these concerns and know how to efficiently cater for those with allergies without making individuals stand out as ‘different’. Instead look to adapt the standard menu offer where they can so it’s suitable. On arrival of a new pupil or resident with a specific allergy, ensure you run through which dishes on your school or care home menu are or are not suitable, and where possible revise the recipe to make the dish accessible to all.

Hints and tips by Sarah Robb, channel marketing manager at Premier Foods

  • Purchasing and delivery of products – check the products ordered are the products delivered and ensure you have an agreement in place so that your suppliers notify you with any recipe changes
  • Access to allergen information – make sure you have allergen information for all your recipes and products in storage and ensure this is accessible for all staff
  • Cross-contamination – avoid this by checking your deliveries ensuring nothing has been damaged, and store allergens on lower levels to avoid spillages
  • Handling and preparation – where appropriate, build in a preparation area for allergen-free items to avoid cross-contamination, using dedicated equipment and utensils, and ensure food handlers wash hands in between preparation of dishes
  • Promote your offer – make sure your free-from menu gets noticed by promoting it on social media, on your website and in your outlet. This will help drive awareness of your offer, particularly for larger parties who may be influenced by one person’s allergy needs and may therefore choose to dine elsewhere.
  • Share best practice – Twitter and Instagram are great tools for research, inspiration as well as sharing best practice with other caterers. Ensure you use popular hash tags for example #FoodAllergyAwarenessWeek to share stories and join the conversation to help you gain your audience’s trust
  • Shout about it If you’re catering for people with special dietary requirements, shout it from the rooftops. At the very least, make it clear to passers-by, says Ben Bartlett, chef and brand ambassador for Lion sauces. He advises: “For people with food allergies, one of the biggest barriers to eating out is lack of certainty that their needs will be both understood and met. Finding free-from menu options in cafés and restaurants is still a new phenomenon for many, so make it obvious that you take dietary requirements seriously. Leaflets, flyers, web content and detailed menus showing ‘safe’ dishes and freefrom options will all help to build trust and confidence.”
  • Gluten-free With the gluten-free market now worth £210million and Coeliac UK predicting half a million people in the UK are yet to be diagnosed with a gluten intolerance, as well as a growing army of people avoiding gluten for lifestyle reasons, the need to provide gluten-free menus is clear – especially given that Mintel is predicting the market to grow by a further 50% by 2019. Andrew Ely, MD of Almondy, says; “Commercially savvy operators have realised that not catering for a special dietary request can have a serious impact on their bottom line. In fact our own research shows that similar to vegetarians, someone with coeliac disease will influence where a whole party eats out, so caterers won’t just be losing one person’s custom but groups of diners.”

There are plenty of products now available which tap into this market – offering gluten-free stocks, gravies, and ready-to-use sauces which cater for the needs of customers following a special diet – as well as being part of an everyday menu – without chefs having to compromise on the quality and consistency. “Using products that are free from allergens such as gluten make it simpler to cater for everyone,” says Willem Fijten, culinary product design scientist for Mars Global Product Development. “Choose a product that is free from gluten, soya and other allergens, and you’ll be able to make most dishes suitable for the majority of people.”

Click here to claim your FREE MAGGI® Gluten Free Sample Pack full of recipes and product samples, including;

  • A Gluten Free brochure including recipe ideas
  • New MAGGI Gluten Free Bouillon sachets (Chicken and Vegetarian)
  • MAGGI Gluten Free Vegetarian Gravy
  • MAGGI Mash Potato Mix sachet
  • MAGGI Coconut Milk Powder Mix sachet
  • NESTLÉ Go Free Cornflakes

For guidance on allergens from the Food Standards Agency visit

The Anaphylaxis Society has an online guide for catering businesses to help you to devise strategies to assess risks in food preparation and manage these risks safely. /catering-for-allergy-practical-measures/ For further help and advice visit