Food Safety Qualifications | Highfield International

Improving food safety for the food hypersensitive (FHS) customer - Near-miss reporting – why is it important and specifically in allergen management

By Caroline Benjamin

What does the term ‘near miss’ mean to you? Is it something you say when you almost missed the bus or the train, is it something you vaguely remember as an agenda item on the health & safety monthly meeting?

Health & safety is an important topic in any business – the cost of incidents caused by a lack of H&S procedures can be huge. Accidents, investigations, meetings and compensation claims may take place when an incident is reported. H&S is taken seriously, and regular meetings take place to monitor incidents and actions, responsibilities and amendments to processes are all recorded.

When a customer reports a ‘near miss’ incident in the hospitality industry, this is often met with a flippant response- ‘Well it’s a good job you didn’t eat it then!’ or ‘Well it didn’t kill you. You're still here’ This typical response must stop, and a change of culture is required.

The hospitality industry must listen to feedback:

  • Recognise Near Miss incidents
  • Report to a senior manager who should
  • Review, amend, and update procedures if required

Near-miss reporting should form part of the food safety management systems (FSMS) procedures, similar to the process when a customer reports a suspected food poisoning incident.

Jacqui McPeake, JACS Ltd, and I (Caroline Benjamin), Food Allergy Aware, are collaborating as HASUK -Hospitality Allergen Support UK. We have already launched 2 surveys to gain data about the food hypersensitive (FHS) consumer and also to gain an insight into current practices within the hospitality sector. We want to hear about the good and not so good practices within the sector and to understand the gaps which need plugging.

The 1st survey is designed to try to collate data from the hospitality sector to see what processes are already in place to manage near-miss incidents. It is known that 6 families reported to Pret a Manger that they didn’t realise that sesame flour was used in the baguettes, and they didn’t know which ingredients were in the baguettes. If Pret had listened to the feedback and reviewed the processes Natasha may still be with us today. HASUK are interested in current practices within the sector and want to highlight best practice.

HASUK are supporting a final year hospitality student, Sofija Putak, who has created the survey as part of her dissertation for her hospitality management course at Greenwich University. The survey is for anyone working in the hospitality industry, and the aim is to create a report on how near miss-reporting is managed for the FHS consumer within the hospitality sector.

  • The link for the hospitality sector survey is here.

The 2nd Survey is for FHS consumers to provide an insight into their experiences of ‘near-miss’ incidents. We want to understand what the response was from the hospitality business.

  • The link for the FHS survey is here.

Example of a ‘near-miss’ incident

What exactly is a near miss? The definition of a near miss is as follows:

A near miss is an undesired event that, under slightly different circumstances, could have resulted in harm to people or damage to property, materials, or the environment. 

Research has shown that for every 90 near misses an accident will occur. The ultimate goal of near-miss reporting is to address the incident and take action to prevent reoccurrence and remove the potential of an accident.’ 


A good example of this was reported to HASUK recently.

‘I have a severe allergy to eggs (life threatening) and as a regular customer of xxxx I am very used to what to expect. For some strange reason a packet of mayo was put in with my food, each item, literally in with the food (each bag of chips, chicken hot wings, etc.) One of the packets was open and leaked on my food. PLEASE can extra training be given? I threw the whole order away; I just couldn't take the chance. This is really, really serious. Thanks.’

Response – ‘Thank you so much for sending that information over. Again, please accept our apologies regarding this. This has been fed back to the restaurant to make them aware of the importance of checking orders.

I know it is so frustrating when you order something then don’t get it - especially when we’re supposed to be looking after you. There are a whole host of reasons it happens, from someone on the team mishearing to simply making a mistake.’

‘Hi xxxxx just to clarify, the team did not mishear me. They just put packets of sauces in with my food that I didn't ask for. That's all. To anyone else it's no big deal, but to me, especially as one of them was damaged, this is literally life-threatening. Thank you for the £18 voucher, most appreciated. My main concern is that xxxxx advise ALL their restaurants to please, please, please not put sauces not asked for in with the food. Thank You. 

****The issue is still happening - ordered a meal last weekend and they bunged a load of sachets of sauces in that I just didn’t ask for -it’s crazy!’ ****

The example above is a fast-food restaurant with a high turnover of customers. The response tried to indicate the staff member did not hear properly but the problem was that in this incident the packets of sauces were automatically added to the order without checking.

We have also spoken to managers in the sector who take this topic very seriously and already have robust procedures in place to ensure feedback is Recognised, Reported and Reviewed. We want to encourage a pro-active approach.

HASUK are passionate about raising awareness of this issue to ensure that all ‘near-miss’ incidents are recorded and investigated thoroughly as part of the FSMS procedure. The outcome of the investigation and best practice should be shared, and the topic should be a regular agenda item at management meetings. Any actions should be clearly noted with deadlines for completion and the person responsible. Any changes to procedures must be updated and clearly communicated to all team members.

HASUK hope that this will reduce the risk for FHS consumers and will ensure that food safety is back on the agenda for the hospitality industry.

To find out more about this campaign and how you can share the information please click on the following link   You will find all the images, texts and resources needed to support our campaign.

Contact information for  - 07732637292 - 07846 067054