Many schools started using online ordering and ‘click and collect’ tools as a coping mechanism for catering during the pandemic. From a consumer perspective, online food delivery giants such as Just Eat, Hungry House and Deliveroo have also experienced an upsurge in popularity over the past couple of years. It may seem easy and convenient, but how are allergens being managed via these platforms. Vitally, who has responsibility for this?
Food businesses in the UK are legally required to provide allergen information on food or drinks served especially for PPDS items (see this blog for details on that topic!). But the legal requirements for food ordered via an app, online or on the phone differs and is instead classed as ‘distance selling’. This means food and drink on sale doesn’t require full ingredients labelling but – either via the website, on a menu or over the phone – mandatory allergen information has to be made available to the consumer before they make their food delivery or click and collect purchase.
Among other official bodies, The Royal Society of Public Health is demanding that food delivery platforms only take on and approve new food businesses once they have provided accurate allergen information. This would make allergen management compulsory. The benefit of this is that it would reassure consumers with an allergy that the food and drink they’re ordering is safe to consume. As a catering provider, ensuring similar provision of allergen information to pupils ordering via remote means may be a good minimum standard. The other side of the current requirements places an emphasis on consumers with a food or drink allergy clearly communicating this to the foodservice operator in advance of ordering and if using online services. However, with allergen legislation being more relaxed when it comes to food delivery platforms, there is more cause for concern and this is something school caterers should consider. One such news story to hit the headlines was that of James Atkinson, who had a known peanut allergy, tragically died in July 2020 after eating a slice of pizza he had ordered via a food delivery app. His family are petitioning for a legislative change which would mean food delivery platforms have to comply with the same legal requirements as regular foodservice operators and catering organisations. James Atkinson’s cause of death was due to an anaphylactic reaction and it has been suggested that this was caused by the pizza being made with peanut flour instead of the usual almond flour (an inquest into his death is set to take place in October 2022 and whether this is the case will be confirmed or not then).
Whilst not currently a legal requirement, school catering teams using online delivery tools may wish to follow more PPDS related guidelines for pupil online order. Again, please take a look here for greater clarity.
How can foodservice operators enable improved allergen management via delivery platforms?
- Include allergen information on online menus
- Give pupils the opportunity to communicate any allergens whilst ordering
- Train your team (or provider) to ask about allergies if taking orders remotely (i.e. via the phone or email / online)
- Put allergen stickers on takeaway boxes to highlight any allergens in click and collect or delivered food
- Inform pupils of any changes to dishes
- Make sure all staff have up to date and regular allergen training.
If your foodservice operation is outsourcing an online ordering platform to a provider, you can make sure they comply to certain standards…
- Require that they impose strict policies that only allow new businesses to join if accurate allergen information is provided and maintained
- Demand that they create an area for pupils to notify the food business about any allergies at the time of ordering
- Ensure they have rigorous methods of maintaining and enforcing allergen management policies and compliance.
If the above measures had been in place before James Atkinson had ordered the pizza, may not have tragically lost his life. Allergen management is critical, especially when ordering food online as there may not be an opportunity to speak to anyone throughout the ordering process.
For advice or consultative support on compliance, allergen management or team training, why not speak to the team at allmanhall? As well as expert food procurement and supply chain management, they provide experienced, professional foodservice consultancy and nutrition and dietetic support for schools.