Starting your own catering business means following an enormous amount of health and safety rules. After all, producing food for public consumption brings a lot of potential risks for both you and your customers. And one wrong move could have dire consequences.

Best estimates say that there around 2 million people in the UK that suffer from at least one kind of food allergy. And just one slip up could lead to angry customers, or even legal consequences. 

So, to keep those people safe and keep your business out of trouble, this guide will discuss allergen advice for caterers to consider for events, including:

  • What are the most common food allergens?
  • Ask your clients about allergies ahead of time.
  • Keep track of all your ingredients.
  • Clearly signpost allergen information. 
  • Avoid cross contamination. 

First, we’ll cover the most common food allergens that must be clearly labelled by food companies.

Then, we’ll give some guidance for caterers to help them safely provide their services at events, such as:

What are the most common food allergens?

All food businesses in the UK need to tell their customers is their food contains any of the following 14 kinds of food:

  • Celery
  • Cereals containing gluten (like barley and oats)
  • Crustaceans (like prawns, crabs, and lobsters)
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Lupin (a type of bean)
  • Milk
  • Molluscs (like mussels and oysters)
  • Mustard
  • Peanuts
  • Sesame products (like sesame seeds and sesame oil)
  • Soybeans 
  • Sulphur dioxide and sulphites (if they’re present at a concentration of more than ten parts per million)
  • Tree nuts (like almonds, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, and macadamias)

If any of the food you provide at catering events contains any of these allergens, they need to be clearly listed and the customers need to be made aware. 

Even if these allergens are used in a minor capacity, like as an additive or processing aid, the same rules apply. 

It’s worth noting that the allergens listed above don’t cover every allergy and intolerance, only the ones that you’re legally required to declare. 

Ask your clients about allergies ahead of time

You’re legally required to declare any of the 14 allergens used in your food. But even so, It’s always worth finding out if any diners have allergies ahead of time so you can give them more detailed information about the products they should avoid. 

If you’re providing table service at a catering event, ask your waiting staff to ask each table individually about allergies so you can give them a list of allergens and steer them in the right direction. 

It’s a good move for safety, but diners with allergies will also appreciate it. Going to public events can be a little nerve-wracking for people with food allergies, so putting in that extra effort with your customer service will help them feel more at ease. 

Keep track of all your ingredients 

The first step in allergy safety is knowing what allergens might be in the food you provide. 

When preparing any food for events, the best advice for caterers is to keep labels and packaging of everything that you’ve used. If you’ve bought unpackaged food from outside suppliers, contact them to get a complete list of the ingredients. It’s essential that you know of any allergens used in every stage of the supply chain

Once you have the final list of all the allergens in your dishes, use that information to make an allergen matrix. 

You’ve probably seen them before. An allergen matrix is basically a large table with a list of all your dishes, cross-referenced with the list of allergens, showing what allergens are present in each dish. 

Clearly signpost allergen information 

Information about any allergens in your food needs to be available in a manner that’s clear, conspicuous, easily visible, and legible.

It’s up to you as a caterer to decide how you’ll communicate the information, as long as it complies with the rules mentioned above.  

Some common methods for displaying allergen information at catering events are:

  • On the menu.
  • On cards and tickets.
  • On chalkboards.
  • Verbally, to the whole room or each individual table. 

It’s also perfectly acceptable for caterers to supply a general allergen warning like this:

  • Food Allergies and intolerances: Please ask a staff member if you require information on the ingredients in the food we serve.

As long as it follows all the rules about accessibility and all the staff are prepped with the necessary information, this is enough to cover your catering business legally. 

On top of the physical event, you should also keep up-to-date allergen information on your business’ website

Avoid cross-contamination

Even dishes that contain no allergens can end up causing a reaction if you’re not careful to prevent cross-contamination. 

Preventing cross-contamination is a necessary food safety measure for all sorts of reasons, but it’s also important when it comes to allergen advice for caterers. 

You can avoid cross-contamination by taking special measures during:

  • Food preparation.
  • Food storage.
  • Food shopping.

Food preparation

Make sure you use separate utensils, plates, and chopping boards when preparing food that contains allergens. Also, remember to wash your hands after contact with food that contains allergens. 

Food storage

Any food containing allergens should be stored individually, in a wrapped or sealed container, to prevent contaminating any other ingredients and dishes.

Food shopping

Like food storage, anything you buy containing allergens should be properly sealed, so it doesn’t come into contact with other ingredients. 

Don’t reuse old bags because they might have been contaminated by other ingredients on a previous trip. 

Cotton bags and fabric bags are always a safer bet because you can wash them after each shopping trip, ensuring there are no contaminants. 

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