Over the last couple of years, the word allergens has become commonplace in the media and everyday conversation. It is most relevant to the 2 million people in the UK whose lives are directly affected by allergens which can have fatal consequences if not understood, managed and controlled well.
In recent months there has been a lot of press coverage around cases in the UK where food businesses have failed in ensuring safe food or allergen information for consumers. The cases have led to prosecutions of both multinational food outlets and local take-aways.
This week it has been reported that the food business operators of Royal Spice were handed prison sentences following the conviction of manslaughter after a 15 year old girl died after ordering a take-away from the restaurant on the 30th December 2016.
Royal Spice owner Mohammed Abdul Kuddus, 40, and manager Harun Rashid, 38, were found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence in October following the death of the teenager in 2016.
Now the two have been jailed – with Kuddus receiving a two-year prison sentence and Rashid receiving three years behind bars.
The Inquest report described how Megan Lee and her friend ordered a take-away online adding in the notes that she had a nut and prawn allergy. The meal arrived at 6pm and after Megan consumed a kebab and naan, she had an allergic reaction. The friend’s mother gave Megan some liquid antihistamine which made her feel better.
Later in the evening after she returned home the allergic reaction returned and worsened, her lips swelled up and she struggled to breathe as her airways narrowed. An ambulance took her to hospital where her heart stopped and she went on to suffer irreversible brain damage. She was pronounced dead on New Year’s Day, 2017.
An investigation was launched by police, environmental health and trading standards on 6th January 2017.
In court the prosecution highlighted that the operators of Royal Spice failed to pay attention to the information provided to them on the order. Local authorities went to visit the property and stated ‘there were no procedures in place in relation to allergen management and no audit of their available dishes or written records of their recipes was either made or kept.’
Environmental Health Officers stated that the premise was filthy and had mice droppings. There were no systems for cleaning or to avoid contamination or cross-contamination of ingredients and dishes.
Due to the long list of failings in health, hygiene, management and monitoring at Royal Spice, the business owners and the manager were found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence. This terrible incident really highlights the importance of ensuring that businesses have good food safety policies and procedures in place to ensure all staff have received training in food safety and allergen awareness.
It is very important to ensure the following allergen procedures are in place :-
- Awareness- All staff should be aware of the importance of allergen awareness. Members of the kitchen team and front of house must be trained and knowledgeable of the allergen content of food and trained in allergens. If you have a temporary member of staff or agency please also ensure they receive basic training in allergens.
- Clear, well presented, up to date allergen information of foods sold/served in the food establishment must be readily available for members of the public and staff. This includes specials.
- Any changes to the menu or any changes of ingredients are updated in the allergen information and all staff made aware.
- Segregation – Ensure that all allergen products are kept in sealed plastic containers to avoid any cross contamination of products and ensure all allergens ingredients are kept separate.
- Whilst much focus is placed on the 14 allergens that must be declared by law, it is important to remember that there are many other ingredients that your guests could have an intolerance to. Please ensure that the chef is made aware of any allergens or intolerances.
- It is very important that the staff both front and back of house work hygienically and utensils are not mixed from product to product, for example for items such as cakes ensure that the handling utensils to pick up from the stand/plate are not mixed from cake to cake.