Improving food safety for the food hypersensitive (FHS) customer - Why it is important to act on information from consumers who say they have an allergy or intolerance to other ingredients not listed as one of the 14
By Caroline Benjamin
Who is the food hypersensitive (FSH) customer?
The FHS customer is someone who has a restricted diet, including food allergies, food intolerances and coeliac disease. This can also include those allergies outside of the 14 major allergens.
There are over 250 allergens to which someone can react, and in Europe and the UK, they only have to label the 14 major allergens. However, your organisation may need to be aware of allergens outside of the 14 to ensure you keep the FHS customer safe while in your care. For example, hospital patients, college students, university students and school children.
If you run a hotel, garden centre café or restaurant you can opt not to serve those who have allergens outside the 14 if you are unsure of your menu items/ingredients. However, if you want to go the extra mile and provide for the FHS customer in these circumstances, it is important you understand and retain the packaging details for all your menu components to ensure you can review these at the time of the visit and prior if you are able to plan ahead.
On your website, the allergy policy could state ‘We will endeavour to serve the FHS customer with allergens outside the 14, we would however, ask you to contact us in advance to enable preparation as appropriate to your diet.’ This will help with planning, and you could ask the guest to come at the start of service which will help avoid the busy periods.
The FHS customer will normally research before eating out, especially if they have multiple allergies, however, this is not always possible, and they may need to find food-on-the-go when travelling.
We would advise asking them for ideas about what they can eat, keeping it simple and check all components of the dish including sauces and garnishes as appropriate. If they have complex allergies, then allow them to bring something with them when joining their colleagues/family. Maybe suggest a salad that does not require heating, offer a plate so they feel included but be wary of handling as appropriate.
The communication and body language of a server can be important factors when the FHS customer decides to use your venue. FHS customers are prone to asking lots of questions at all stages of their customer journey, and they may ask the same question several times to get reassurance. In this instance, the server or manager needs to be empathetic and understanding of the FHS customer’s fears and double-check to ensure that information given is truly accurate. Where appropriate show packing; taking a photo is very helpful! Rolling eyes and impatient comments will not be well received!
Also, it is not up to the venue to decide how severe someone’s allergy, intolerance or coeliac disease is. When we cater for the FHS customer we should take the same care and precautions for ALL FHS customers.
Contact information for Caroline Benjamin at Food Allergy Aware:
E: firstname.lastname@example.org | T: 07732637292