Allergen hygiene should be scored in the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme and national guidance provided on how allergen responsibilities are split between environmental health and trading standards.
A consistent national approach is needed to help keep consumers with allergies safe, according to Helen Dodds, food and safety manager at Hyndburn Borough Council.
Dodds was part of the EH team that worked alongside the police investigation following the death of Megan Lee. The 15-year-old died following a severe allergic reaction to peanuts after eating a curry from the Royal Spice takeaway in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, in 2016.
Since Megan’s death, Hyndburn has worked with Lancashire County Council to increase knowledge around allergen hygiene and cross contamination – which was a particular issue in Megan's case – and implement new systems and resources.
Since April 2017 allergen hygiene has been covered during routine food hygiene interventions, for example. Hyndburn found allergen control issues at a third of interventions and so it developed a free, monthly workshop for caterers. So far this year 350 people have attended it.
But more needs to be done nationally, Dodds said. “I have been involved in a number of best practice days for EH/trading standards officers across the country and I hear time and time again that further clarity is required nationally in relation to allergen hygiene, enforcement and inclusion of allergen hygiene/management as part of the food hygiene rating scheme. There is currently a mixed picture across the country.”
Hyndburn is a two-tier authority with trading standards officers from Lancashire County Council.
Dodds added: “Historically Food Information Regulations were seen as a trading standards area of work. However, due to food hygiene intervention frequencies catering premises are more likely to see an EH officer than a trading standards officer. Also, catering premises are not deemed ‘high risk’ from a trading standards perspective.”
This led the councils to update their joint working arrangements and have new strategies in place to tackle allergen controls in catering premises.
Dodds added: “We have decision trees in place relating to which authority would do what in various circumstances. Trading standards still take a lead role in relation to sampling and labelling issues. Joint approaches are taken in respect of complaints.”
This strategy has been rolled out across Lancashire and Dodds says she is aware of “pockets of good work” in place such as Barnsley and Manchester. However, she argued: “I would like to see this work tied together nationally to provide a consistent approach across the country.”
• The Food Standards Agency is recommending mandatory full ingredient listing for foods pre-packed for direct sale (PPDS) but some EHPs have said this ‘may not be practical’. See the forthcoming June print issue of EHN for more.