Managing food allergens and intolerances
What is a food allergy?
A food allergy is when a food protein leads to an immune response. An allergic reaction may include swelling, hives, vomiting, abdominal pain or in some cases may lead to life threatening reactions known as anaphylaxis.
What is a food intolerance?
A food intolerance is when a particular food, chemical or component creates an adverse reaction, but is not related to an immune response. Reactions may include bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and vomiting. These responses are not life threatening but can be debilitating for sufferers.
The Australian and New Zealand Food Standards Code states that food businesses must ensure that certain allergens are clearly listed on the labels of food for sale. In the case of unpackaged foods (such as meals sold from a restaurant/café) the information must be provided upon request. These are:
- Peanuts and peanut products
- Tree nuts and tree nut products
- Soy and other soybean products
- Egg and egg products
- Dairy and dairy products
- Fish and fish products
- Seafood/crustacea and their products
- Wheat and other cereals containing gluten
- Sesame seeds and sesame seed products
Determining food allergens within your business
To ensure your business provides safe and suitable food to all customers, all allergens must be accurately identifiable and communicated. You should check for the presence of allergens in all foods which you sell from your business, whether these are made externally or prepared on site.
Steps to manage allergens:
- Know what’s in all food – Collate an accurate list of all ingredients for each food product you produce or sell. Take note of foods containing allergens in a way that can be easily referenced by staff
- Know the allergens – Take note of all allergens on site and which foods contain any allergens. Ensure that you have the details of all ingredients for each menu item for easy reference. You may list this information on a products labelling, on a written menu, on displayed signage, or provide it to customers upon request
- Prepare food safely – Identify any potential cross contamination risks at your premises by assessing how you prepare, store, display and serve your foods. It is important to ensure that allergens cannot be introduced to foods through your equipment, utensils, or direct contact with other foods when displayed or stored
- Be 100% truthful – Be as transparent as possible with your customers – ask customers about allergies, give the customer all of the information they need to be informed of the allergen content, never guess or assume
- Be vigilant – It’s important that every step from ordering through to the meal being served is managed. Ensure that each person handling the meal knows of the allergen requirements and ensures it is appropriately prepared, kept separate from other meals, and delivered to the correct customer
Using a food allergen checklist in your business
One way to manage your business’ allergen information is to develop a food allergen matrix or checklist.
This useful tool allows you to list all allergens within menu items in a quick reference table which helps staff provide information about the presence of different ingredients in menu items. You must be ensured that this information is kept up to date with food provided and regularly reviewed.
Training and further information
- Refer to the allergens section of the business Food Safety Program
- Refer to the food standards code allergens section of Food Standards Australia and New Zealand
- Visit the Department of Health allergens section
- Have staff complete the allergen section of the free ‘Do Food Safely’ training
- Talk to your Environmental Health Officer
- Have management and staff complete All About Allergens training