What is your responsibility when it comes to allergens?
In the UK, an estimated 2 million are living with a diagnosed food allergy and 600,000 live with coeliac disease.
This number doesn’t even account for cases of intolerance which, will well they don’t carry the same severity, can lead to some pretty unpleasant reactions for an unsuspecting guest.
The UK, in particular, has some of the highest allergy rates in the world, with over 20% affected by one or more allergy disorder such as a food allergy or hayfever. The number is also growing rapidly, with younger generations having much higher rates of allergies than older generations.
Supermarkets are doing more than ever, with free from sections and clearer labels making common allergens bold with notes about cross-contamination but events can still be a bit of a risk.
A buffet which, for non-allergen sufferers, can be a great source of joy as you play ‘how much can I pile on a single plate?’ can be an absolute nightmare for allergen sufferers.
So, what is your responsibility, as an events host, when it comes to guests with allergies?
You need to know what you can offer, and so does your team
So, obvious one out the way, it’s no good you knowing you’re hosting an event that has two coeliacs, three people with a tree-nut allergy and one allergic to mustard if you don’t know what’s in any of your food.
Your kitchen will know, or have access to, allergens on every item in their kitchen but it’s not enough for it to stay in the kitchen. Everyone in your team needs to have easy access to this allergen information, ready for when a customer asks.
There’s nothing less reassuring for someone with an allergen then an unsure host saying they think something is fine or looking flustered as they say they have to go check.
Make sure every member of your staff knows exactly where to find information so they can show the customer and confidently find it for anyone who needs it.
You need to ask
Do you have a place for customers to let you know they have dietary requirements?
Have you had a conversation about how severe their allergies are? While some people can’t have direct contact with their allergen, other allergies are so severe cross-contamination is a huge issue.
An example of this is aeroplanes banning peanuts on-board because the air contamination is enough to set off severe allergy sufferers
You need to inform
It’s great that you know the allergen requirements, but does everyone else? The kitchen knows what allergens the foods contain, but do they know which parties have these allergens to consider so they can make sure the kitchen is suitably prepped?
If you’ve hired an outside caterer - have you made sure to pass them all allergen information?
And got it in writing so you have a record of this?
Do all of your staff know which foods are allergy-free, or which need to be avoided, in case they’re asked?
Have you let your guests know in advance they’ve been catered for? Even if it’s a sit-down meal where choices have been pre-made, it’s a thoughtful touch to remind them allergens have been taken care of.
If it’s a self-serve buffet, it’s especially useful to send out a list for allergen sufferers so they can be prepared and not have to worry about having a few drinks too many on an empty stomach because they didn’t know which food was safe or who to ask.
You need to make it available
This is a reiteration of point one because it’s so important - everyone needs easy access to allergen information and they shouldn’t have to rely on you to do it. Menus should have common allergen information or a link to where the information is available.
Even a PDF available for customers who enquire so they can peruse at their own leisure.
And staff absolutely need to know common allergens and if they haven’t memorised them, which let’s be honest, some of us just have sieves for memories, need to know where they can find the info quickly.
You need to double-check
It’s the golden rule! Check, check and check again. You can’t be too cautious when it comes to dealing with allergens so check you have all the correct information, check everyone has been informed, check information is available before the event.
The easiest way to do all of this is to build as much of this into your processes as possible, rather than relying on remembering to do all of the above.
Have communication between the kitchen and front of house team as part of your automated to-do list. Make sure allergen information is required with menu bookings.
We can help with the processes, to take some of the human error out of it and make sure the right information is being passed on and you’re being prompted about the right communications in-house but the rest is up to you.