Why is Food Allergy Training important?
Food allergy training is important for many reasons. Food business operators have a legal duty to ensure staff receive food safety training commensurate with the work activity. Training improves risk perception and provides practical knowledge on preventive control measures. Competent food handlers and management commitment can protect consumers from avoidable harm and the food business from criminal prosecution and civil legal action.
Reported Risky Behaviours
Food allergy training is not simply a ‘tick box’ exercise. There is a justified need for food allergy awareness and risk management training within the food industry with reported trends in serious misunderstandings of basic knowledge. Many participants in different studies mistakenly believed a person with a food allergy would not have reaction if the meal was cooked1,2 or an allergen was removed from a finished product1. Furthermore, they did not know that allergens could be transferred by hands1 and the difference between a food allergy and food intolerance1,2. Worryingly quite a few participants in these studies thought offering water would dilute a food allergen to prevent an allergic reaction1,2.
Consumers also reported in surveys conducted in 2016 and 2018 that staff should have a better knowledge of food allergens3,4 and must do more to actively ask if anyone on the table has a food allergy or intolerance when taking a table reservation or food order4.
Training Strategy and Approach
Start will the scope of food allergy training and decide what knowledge and skills are essential to protect customers with food allergies and other hypersensitivities (e.g. coeliac disease and food intolerance).
Take a risk-based5 approach to food safety education and training. Clearly communicate real hazards with real consequences5. Think about which tasks, practices and behaviours5 pose significant risks. Then decide which skills and knowledge will deliver the most impact in changing food handlers’ mindsets. For example, poor communication between the consumer and food service employees2,4 is one of the main reasons allergic reaction whilst eating out. Therefore, effective training must have a strong emphasis on effective risk communication.
Training should consider human behaviour because gaining knowledge and skills is not enough to provide safe food. Emotions are a powerful tool in changing undesired food safety behaviour. Doing the right thing should be about feeling good and valued. Remember people learn through social interaction. Get those emotions flowing through group discussions and sharing personal narratives. Use real-life case studies as a ‘persuasive’5 tool to demonstrate what happens when procedures are not followed.
Remember learning should be fun, meaningful, interactive, and inclusive. Keep communication simple and make sure expectations for food safety and consequences for non-compliance are understood by everyone. Contexualise learning to real world scenarios and provide opportunities for employees to discuss personal narratives on the challenges they face in providing safe food. There might be valid reasons for risky behaviours. Look to resolve these issues with agreed and practical interventions.
Finally, completing a test at the end of the course does not necessarily mean a food handler is competent. Think about practical ways to verify competency. Observations, demonstrations, simulations, asking questions and checking records are all effective methods for checking competency
We offer an accredited food allergy awareness and management courses. These include the Highfield Level 3 Award in Food Allergen Management for Caterers and Highfield Level 2 Award in Food Allergy Awareness and Control in Catering. Contact us now to find out how we can support your team on 01296 320247.
1. Wan, W., Kwon,J. (2017).Restaurant servers’ risk perceptions and risk communication-related behaviors when serving customers with food allergies in the U.S. In International Journal of Hospitality and Management Vol 64. pp 11-20.
2. Jan Mei Soon (2018) No nuts please’: Food allergen management in takeaways. In Food Control. Vol 91. Pp349-356.
3. FSA. (2016). Quarter of people with food allergies suffer reactions when eating out.
Food Standards Agency. [Online]. Available at: https://www.food.gov.uk/news-updates/
news/2016/15103/quarter-of-people-with-food-allergies-suffer-reactionswhen-eating-out. (Accessed 7 July 2019)
4. FSA (2018) Young people and food allergies and intolerances: An online survey of young people (16-24-year-olds) and their experiences of managing a food allergy/intolerance [Online]. Available at: https://www.food.gov.uk/research/food-allergy-and-intolerance-research/young-people-and-food-allergies-and-intolerances ( Accessed 7 July 2019)
5. Yiannas, F. (2009). Food safety culture: Creating a behavior-based food safety management system. New York: Springer Science