Food For Thought: Are we keeping our allergen customers safe?

Our Sales and Partnership Manager, Paul Berryman brings us another 'Food for Thought' blog. This month he considers whether the QSR industry is doing enough to safeguard customers with allergies and how EPoS tech can help.

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Allergy conscious dining is a hot topic once more, gaining traction amongst diners, chefs and operator owners. As we await the outcome of the new Government report following the Pret a Manger allergy case in 2016, many QSR outlets are stepping up a gear with food allergen policies to protect customers, avoid a PR fiasco and prepare for an inevitable tightening of new food labelling.

Surprisingly, allergen labelling is not currently required by law in the UK when casual dining or fast-food outlets cook the food on site, although staff are required to provide allergen information if customers ask for it. But I, like many others, expect that this long overdue loophole will be closed once the government’s study is complete.
Defra estimates that 1-2% of adults and 5-8% of children have a food allergy and more have intolerances. This equates to a potential of 532,5880 children and 544,000 adults at risk!

So, as I see it, the three big questions for the industry are:

  1. Are we as an industry really doing enough to ensure our menu ingredients are always 100% accurate and 100% available to anyone at any time?
  2. How far can we trust our staff to accurately and consistently deliver this critical information?
  3. Are our order-to-kitchen communication processes reliable enough to protect our allergen diners?

How aware are restaurant staff about food allergies?

In a study by Research Gate on “How to manage food allergy in restaurants, cafeterias and fast food outlets?”, various food businesses were asked how they dealt with food allergic guests.

And the results were alarming in terms of both the lack of proper and actionable policies and the level of ignorance surrounding food allergies and management of them.

  • 95% of the respondents indicated that they could provide a safe meal, but only 26% has had food allergen training.
  • 55% of the respondents believed that a small amount of allergen would do no harm.
  • Around half thought that a buffet would be safe if it was kept clean.
  • 21% thought that removing the allergen from a prepared meal (like nut topping), would make the meal safe to eat.
  • 85% recognised peanut, tree nuts, milk and egg as main allergens.
  • 18% indicated that they had a procedure to provide allergy safe meals.

How technology can keep you and your customers safe

Keeping compliant and your allergen customers safe demands both policy, accuracy, consistency and up-to-date ingredient information instantly available to both the diner and waiting staff. But without the right tools, this can be difficult to maintain. Especially for those outlets with a high staff turnover.

For many small and large restaurant and fast food businesses, the answer now lies in both stringent policies, strict kitchen management and importantly, EPoS technology.

Real time, available and accurate communication:

  1. Having a stock module within your EPoS is an essential part of your food allergen management policy. This enables all your ingredients for each menu item to be stored and instantly available at every PoS. It should have the capability to build recipes from individual ingredients, then pull all the details together, including any allergen and nutritional content info.
  2. A good EPoS platform should include an item description button used by the FOH that can scan orders for allergens. There should then be the ability to send a message to the BOH to notify kitchen management so alternative ingredients are used and the change then communicated back to FOH to inform the customer.
  3. Digital menus either online, mobile or at an instore tablet or kiosk, are also increasingly being used to enable customers can access all the allergen and nutritional information they need before ordering.

According to Allergy UK, the cases of food allergies have doubled in the last decade. Lindsey McManus, deputy chief executive at Allergy UK says:

“People with allergies don’t want to be special, they want to be the same. They are also the key decision makers about where they go out to eat. It’s easy to forget that food allergies are potentially life-threatening, but those with them just need reassurance that they are safe and to be given the chance to make the right decisions when they eat out.”

Giving those that suffer food allergies the autonomy and control to protect themselves is critical.  And with the advances in EPoS and digital technology, every dining operator should be harnessing these key tools to not only meet current and future food allergen compliance, but for the care and safety of their customers.

For more information on how pointOne’s EPoS solutions provide full allergen disclosure for customers and help staff safeguard customers with food allergies, please get in touch.