Food Safety Qualifications | Highfield International

Improving food safety for the food hypersensitive (FHS) customer - The importance of communication in controlling allergens

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 the14 major allergens.

Communicating to the FHS customer on how your business can provide for them is a pre-requisite as to whether they will visit or return to your business. Their experience will be reflected in their review of the venue via social media or with friends and family. I have listed below areas that need to be considered when providing for the FSH customer.

What you need to consider

Website: The website should have clear menu information, if allergen information is available, it should be readable and correct. Finding errors on allergen sheets will turn the FHS customer away.

Allergen policy: An external allergen policy should be easily accessible on the website. It should state what you can and cannot do, offering further information as applicable.

The policy should be based on your internal policy and procedures including Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP), and you must look at ways to reduce the risk of cross-contamination for the FHS customer in all your processes.

E.g.: if you are in a fish restaurant, it would be difficult to limit cross-contamination for someone with a fish allergy, Five Guys cook in peanut oil and their restaurants would not be suitable for someone with a peanut allergy. 

Disclaimers: Instead of using disclaimers tell the FHS customer what you will do to keep them safe, for example, separate utensils, separate areas and cleaning down methods. This will increase customers’ confidence.

Note: Asking a customer to sign a disclaimer in the UK is not valid in a court of law and is not good practice within a business. It is better to explain what you will do, and the FHS customer can make an informed choice as appropriate.

Bookings: When taking bookings, encourage staff to ask about dietary requirements and note any allergen requests. If they have multiple allergies request a contact number for the chef to speak with them directly if appropriate.

Servers: When taking orders encourage staff to ask about dietary requests on guest arrival, this will give ample time to prepare and clean areas as appropriate.

Encourage servers to ALWAYS write the order down and read it back to the FHS customer. Also verify directly with the kitchen to ensure the order is understood. If appropriate confirm back to the FHS customer. Don’t leave them hanging!

The FHS customer will ask lots of questions for reassurance, therefore, ensure staff are patient and empathetic and do not show irritation by rolling your eyes.

Allergy experts: In any organisation, it is recommended that an ‘Allergy Champion’ or ‘Allergy Expert’ is on each shift. They can be front or back of house (or both), and they will have had extensive training to Level 3 and maintained their continuing professional development (CPD) to keep their knowledge updated. If this is not possible due to the size of the business, then all management staff are encouraged to have extensive training as appropriate to their business.

Functions and casual staff: Functions can be high-risk events for the FHS customer when ad-hoc staff are drafted in from agencies. In this scenario, there should be a set process in place at the start of each function. A management briefing is required to highlight who is responsible for the FHS customer(s) and give awareness on how they are managed.

Ensure the dedicated staff member for the FHS customer is present throughout the function, and where possible use your permanent staff members.  Don’t forget buffet provisions if two meal events!

Where possible request that the agency staff have taken the Food Standards Agency online FREE training and they have a certificate of attendance. It is accessible outside the UK and still appropriate on allergen content although the law will differ.

Allergen books/folders/matrices: For either online or manual copies, ensure there is accurate up-to-date information. Specials should be included. Do not overuse ‘May contains’ labels. Verify information from suppliers if unsure.

Menu planning: Check the availability of menu items and review the contents for the 14 standard allergens. What choices can you offer?

Does your matrix have ‘May contains’ in all high-risk sections, either because your staff are unsure of the ingredients, or a proper risk assessment has not taken place? For example, you have no sesame on-site, but it is shown as ‘may contain sesame’ in the dishes. This is not appropriate unless verified by the manufacturer on their labelling.

Reporting:  When a customer highlights an issue with a product or service which is related to something they have or could react to, it should be highlighted by the server/management team within the food management system or Safer Food Better Business (SFBB) as appropriate, so the customer’s issue is logged.

If a customer has raised a potential issue or a near miss, this should also be noted in the food management system. These types of reports should be monitored to see if patterns occur, and appropriate action should be taken to prevent a future occurrence or fatality.

THE FHS customer is very loyal and if your business is willing to go the extra mile they will return and share their experiences across social media with their peers. If we can assist with templating your food allergy policy in any way, please get in contact.

Contact information for Caroline Benjamin at Food Allergy Aware:


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