You wake up in the morning, pop the kettle on and turn up the radio to hear ‘…breaking news this morning, a school child dies after suffering an allergic reaction by simply enjoying a piece of birthday cake at a child’s party on the weekend…’ Thoughts run through your mind…Was it a cake you made? Who was that lady that picked up that cake on Friday? I’m sure I thoroughly cleaned the mixing bowl before making that cake? Imagine the panic and dread that would overwhelm you…but there simply is no need.
The death of an eleven-year-old boy, Oakley Debbs, in the USA as a result of accidentally eating a tree nut found within a Pound Cake the day before thanksgiving, and in the UK, the tragic death of Natasha Ednan – Laperouse after eating a cross contaminated baguette, both in 2016, should send chills down our spines and feelings of nausea in the pits of our stomachs as we realise the impact and consequences of being a food business operator, having the potential to destroy a person and their families lives due to irresponsible controls of allergen containing materials in the day to day operation of what is thought to be ‘
…simply baking a cake…’.
At the time of this article being printed, there are 8 legally defined allergens in the USA and there are 14 in the UK. Of those, the most common allergens to be found in ingredients used on or in a cake product will include cereals containing Gluten, namely Wheat along with Milk, Egg, Soya, Tree nuts and Peanuts, (note – there may be more depending on the final recipe/decoration of the product).
Responsibilities as a food business operator should include as a minimum, ensuring the following points are considered and implemented when using allergen containing ingredients;
Purchase and Approved suppliers –
- how does your supplier handle allergens?
- Are they mainstream, ‘branded’ suppliers?
- Are they registered with enforcing authority?
- Are they certified as a food manufacturer?
- Are they reputable?
- Is the full list of ingredients available through a specification or on external labelling?
- Are the ingredients transported and delivered to you in a safe way avoiding cross contamination?
- Ensure you and your staff are trained in awareness of allergens.
- Consider format of allergen i.e. liquid, powder, solid thus what type of risk it presents when being handled i.e. does it become airborne and contaminate equipment and items in the surrounding areas.
- Segregation of preparing foods that contain allergens through time, area, equipment e.g. reusing baking tins and mixing bowls and personnel/personal protective equipment where possible.
- Thorough cleaning of equipment.
- Designated scoops and containers for ingredients.
- Ensure everything is clearly labelled.
- Agreed recipes, avoid last minute ingredient changes where new allergens may be unknowingly introduced.
- Ask the customer if they have any intolerances of concerns regarding allergens when they place their orders and keep note of this, if you have a shop, put this notice on display.
- Label finished product with allergens the product contains (a summary is not enough as often chocolate for example contains a number of sub-ingredients including Soya and Milk).
- If ‘business to business’ sales, ensure the product is fully labelled in-line with local regulations including compound ingredients (specifications can be provided if for wholesale supply).
In summary, hazards associated with allergens can be easily avoided if you have undertaken a thorough assessment of your food operation, identifying all the hazards at each step and implementing effective control measures to reduce the hazard to an acceptable level (HACCP).
Katie Young (mCIEH), BSc Hons, has over 15 years’ experience in food safety enforcement, is a mum to two daughters aged 10 and 8 and is the owner of Beacon Compliance. Beacon Compliance (www.beacon-compliance.co.uk, www.facebook.com/beaconcompliance) was set up to enable food businesses make sense of compliance ‘red tape’ through proactive support plans including labelling reviews, specification design, pre-inspection hygiene audits, allergen management reviews, supplier approval audits etc. The ‘Good Cop’ when it comes to food safety enforcement. For an informal chat feel free to call Katie on (+44)7484 837756 or email [email protected].
(This article can also be found in September 2019 Edition of Cake Masters Magazine)