Melting Pot – Stepping up to the plate

Catering for allergies

An estimated 2million people in the UK and 3% of the adult population in Ireland are living with a diagnosed food allergy (excluding lactose intolerance).  Unfortunately for those suffering with an allergy or intolerance, there isn’t a cure, however they be managed by observing a strict avoidance diet.

When eating out, whether in a restaurant, café, school or care environment, this restriction adds stress and anxiety for the sufferer, but also places pressure on food outlets and operators to highlight potential allergens on their menus and food labels. With Natasha’s Law coming into force in October, we asked a team of experts for some advice on how to cater for those with a food allergy and the best practise to follow.

Leni Wood
Nutrition and Wellbeing Manager, Nellsar

When creating any menu in a care setting, you must start with people’s preferences and build from there. When accommodating food allergies and intolerances, its possible to offer nutritious meals that include replacement ingredients without compromising on flavour. Alternatively, you could also build personalised recipes. We recently welcomed a person into one of our homes who was coeliac, lactose intolerant, vegetarian and on a puréed diet. It was a challenge to develop a personalised menu for this resident, but we managed to create one which was allergen free and still rich in proteins, fats, carbohydrates, macro and micronutrients.

We used silken tofu and blended cashew nuts added into foods such as blended porridge and mash potato in the first 2 weeks to provide protein and we offered dairy-free, gluten-free ice-creams, mousses, sorbet and stewed apple with cinnamon to support and soothe gut health. After the first week or two, we began to try things like homemade vegetarian sausages and we have been building on variety ever since.

Nick Blythe
Owner, Paella Fella

Since 2018 we have invested in a Nutritional Consultant to analyse our menu, evaluate our dishes to produce nutritional and allergen statements and develop a client allergen booklet available for download on our website. Our menus are clearly labelled with allergens in bold. For example, a chicken and chorizo paella contains GLUTEN and CELERY. Our team is trained to discuss all dietary requirements. These measures give our clients greater transparency and confidence when booking their events.

We regularly get requests for free-from menus for events. We typically follow a 3-step process; firstly, removing the FSA allergen if it is a primary ingredient and then replace it with an alternative, this is followed by the last step which is a complete review of all composite ingredients to ensure they are allergen-free. The free-from menu is then prepared in a dedicated area to avoid cross contamination.

Adrian Greaves
Foodservice Director, Young’s Foodservice

With many suppliers developing specialist products to meet demand and greater knowledge available, it is far easier for caterers to produce dishes for customers with special dietary requirements. The best thing about sourcing quality products that are also suitable for gluten and allergen-free meals is that customers can still enjoy their favourite foods and caterers don’t need to source multiple products. At Young’s Foodservice, it’s our priority to develop products that are suitable for everyone. Our famous Omega 3 Alaska Pollock Fish Fingers are available in a gluten and milk free variant which feature a crispy, rice crumb that tastes just as great as our original recipe.

Anthony Saison
Head of Marketing, Mademoiselle Desserts UK

There are three key elements to consider for a menu that will accommodate someone with a food allergy or intolerance. Firstly, offer a good safety assurance scheme by selling safely sealed products, from accredited sites. Secondly, proposing an ambitious menu delivering choice. Consumers with allergies need to be treated like all others, they like the same classics and want several options to choose from, not just vegan sorbets which is why we offer desserts including vegan cherry pie and raspberry and chocolate tart or gluten free lemon drizzle slice. There ought to be no compromise on quality and taste, whatsoever. Food needs to be delicious, not ‘good for a vegan/gluten-free dessert’, so consumers don’t feel punished.

Justina Bajorinaite
Roving Chef, Vegetarian for Life

With allergies, intolerances, and autoimmune diseases becoming increasingly relevant to the care sector, we have released a comprehensive and easy-to-follow manual to help make it easier for care staff to cater for many different diets. ‘Dietary diversity in the care sector’ gives guidance on how to adapt the recipes in the guide for different diets with clear symbols for each, making it simple and straightforward to follow, including dishes such as Spicy Courgette and Pea Fritters and Raw Chocolate Truffles. The guide also covers best practice when facing ethical dilemmas – including when a vegetarian asks for meat. Visit vegetarianforlife.org.uk for a copy of the guide.

Kirstie Clyde
Consultant and Allergen Expert, CMC School catering

We work with clients who cater for a vulnerable age group, one with a high incidence of allergic conditions. Putting in place good practices and clear information is key to managing allergens in schools, such as checking ingredients on every order they receive into school. When developing menus, ensure you have some recipes which are allergen free, or look to substitute products in regular recipes such as substituting butter in sauces, pastry or dishes like an apple crumble with dairy-free spreads. We’ve been preparing for Natasha’s Law since it was passed last year. We’ve looked at all the labelling systems on the market and are advising and training our clients on what we believe to be the best and safest for use in schools.