​Comprehensive Allergen Management in Food Businesses

​Comprehensive Allergen Management in Food Businesses

Posted by Emma on 23rd Apr 2024

In the UK, over 2 million people live with food allergies, and an additional 600,000 have Coeliac disease. Thus, allergen management is a legal necessity and a crucial aspect of customer service in the food industry. This detailed guide aims to help food business operators develop a thorough understanding and implementation strategy for allergen management that ensures safety, compliance, and customer confidence.

Did You Know:

In 2016, Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died after an allergic reaction to sesame in an inadequately labelled baguette from Pret A Manger. While Pret A Manger followed allergen legislation at the time, the incident showed they weren't doing enough to protect allergy sufferers.

Understanding Food Allergies and Coeliac Disease

Food Allergies Defined

Food allergies involve an immune response to proteins found in certain foods. According to the Food Standards Agency, reactions can range from minor irritations to anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially fatal reaction. Understanding these reactions is crucial for food businesses to effectively prevent and manage potential emergencies.

Coeliac Disease Explained

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the ingestion of gluten damages the small intestine. The Coeliac UK organisation states that strict gluten avoidance is necessary for those affected, underscoring the importance of accurate food labelling and preparation practices.

Legislation Impacting Allergen Management

Food Information Regulations 2014: This regulation transformed how food businesses must communicate allergen information, making transparency a legal obligation.

Natasha's Law 2021: Introduced to tighten labelling laws further, it mandates comprehensive ingredient listing with precise allergen highlighting on packaging for pre-packed direct-sale foods, addressing gaps in previous legislation.

Proposed Legislation

Owen's Law: Discussions are still happening around Owen's Law; the proposed legislation changes regarding allergen labelling in restaurants that will make it a legal requirement for restaurants to print allergen information on their menus. We're closely monitoring the developments and general industry thoughts on the law.

Recognised Allergens

The UK law identifies 14 allergens that require clear disclosure:

Cereals containing gluten (e.g., wheat, barley, oats) Crustaceans
Eggs Fish
Peanuts Soybeans
Milk Nuts (specific types listed)
Celery Mustard
Sesame seeds Sulphur dioxide and sulphites (at concentrations above 10mg/kg)
Lupin Molluscs

These allergens were selected due to their potential to cause severe reactions and the frequency of responses in the population. Nuts and shellfish are among the most common triggers of severe allergic reactions in the UK.

Best Practices in Allergen Management

Important note before we proceed: It's important to tell customers upfront if you can't cook food that meets their dietary needs. Put a note on your FAQ page explaining why you can't safely make food for them. It's better to be honest than to risk their health. Don't try to serve people with allergies without checking the risks first. Putting sales before health could get you in big trouble.

Menu Design and Ingredient Selection

Allergen-Smart Ingredient Choices: Where possible, opt for ingredients that naturally avoid significant allergens. This reduces the risk and simplifies kitchen processes.

Menu Information: If possible, clearly mark allergens alongside each menu item, and consider creating sections or separate menus for allergen-free options to improve customer experience and safety.


Training and Procedures

Comprehensive Staff Training: Regular sessions should cover allergen information, emergency response, and customer communication. Use role-playing and simulations to reinforce learning.

Designated Allergen Specialists: Have specific staff members, known as "Allergen Champions," who are expertly trained in handling allergens and can serve as points of contact for both staff and customer allergen inquiries. If you have a small team and a small menu, why not train all the staff to be "Allergen Champions".

Communication with Customers

Active Allergy Inquiry: If you have a restaurant, encourage staff to ask about allergies when taking orders or reservations. This proactive approach helps prevent accidental exposure.

Accessible Information: Beyond in-person communication, provide digital resources such as websites or apps where customers can filter menu items according to allergens. If you operate a takeaway, a QR code could direct people to a webpage containing all the allergen information they need.

Communicate: Remember, allergens are not inherently harmful; they are ingredients that can adversely affect specific individuals. What is critical—and where the real risk lies—is failing to effectively communicate the presence of allergens to customers. Ensuring transparent and accurate allergen information is available empowers customers to make safe choices about their food.

Preparation and Storage

Avoid Cross-Contamination: Use colour-coded equipment and dedicated storage areas for allergens to physically separate and prevent accidental mixing.

Detailed Labelling: Implement a labelling system in storage and preparation areas that includes allergen information to ensure staff are always aware of potential risks.

Cleaning Protocols

Rigorous Cleaning Regimes: Establish strict cleaning protocols to remove allergen residues. This includes using separate cleaning cloths and solutions for allergen-free zones.

Scheduled Sanitation: Regularly scheduled deep cleans can further minimise the risk of cross-contamination.

Emergency Response

Actionable Emergency Plans: Develop and regularly update action plans for handling allergic reactions, including recognising symptoms and using an epinephrine auto-injector.

Staff Readiness: Ensure that all staff, especially those in customer-facing roles, are trained to handle emergencies and know the steps to take if a customer has an allergic reaction.


Effective allergen management is essential not only for legal compliance but also for ensuring the safety and satisfaction of your customers. By implementing the practices outlined in this guide, food businesses can enhance their operational procedures and build a reputation for safety and reliability in allergen management. With these measures in place, you can protect your customers and your business, ensuring everyone can dine confidently.