In response to the rise in episodes of anaphylaxis, hospital admissions and fatalities due to food allergies in Australia, the National Allergy Strategy, a partnership between the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) and Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia (A&AA), has launched an online food allergy training and education program for those working within the foodservice industry.
“Food allergy remain a growing problem in Australia, with rates on the rise, and episodes of life-threatening anaphylaxis increasing,” says associate professor Richard Loh, co-chair of the National Allergy Strategy and immediate past president of ASCIA.
“While people with food allergy are usually successful in avoiding their allergens in their own environment, research tells us that most episodes of fatal anaphylaxis occur outside of the home.”
Maria Said, CEO of Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia (A&AA), adds “Unfortunately, there is limited understanding of how to manage food allergies within the food service industry, and certainly no standardised, evidence-based and easily accessible training available. That’s why we have developed this free online training program specifically for people working within the food service industry, to increase awareness, help implement manageable safe guards and therefore potentially save lives.”
The new online food allergy training program is a national, collaborative project that has engaged with key stakeholders within the food services industry in its development. Funding for the consultation and resource development was provided by the Australian Government as part of the National Allergy Strategy.
The All about Allergens training program is available via a website and provides access to training that is fast, simple and free. The program also provides comprehensive need to know information relevant to those in the foodservice industry. Training modules include information about responding to customers that disclose a food allergy, managing orders for those with food allergy, minimising the risk of cross-contamination, and it also highlights examples of good service for customers with food allergy. The course also educates users on the symptoms of a food allergic reaction and explains what to do if a customer experiences anaphylaxis (the most severe form of allergic reaction).
Sydney chef and food consultant, Alex Herbert, has experience on both sides of the table when it comes to allergies to food. Since becoming the mother of a child with a severe egg and peanut allergy, Herbert has developed a new-found appreciation of the importance of maintaining stringent food handling procedures within a commercial kitchen.
“For people with a severe allergy, it can take only the smallest amount, of their allergen to trigger a severe allergic reaction. For example, using tongs to toss an egg based pasta dish and then using the same tongs to handle their egg free meal is enough to send them to hospital,” says Herbert.
The new program will not only provide solutions for a growing number of customers but peace of mind for food and beverage operators, knowing that they have systems in place to deal with this growing demand.
“This new food allergy training website for food service staff could literally save lives. It’s easy to understand, it only takes about 1–1.5 hours to complete, and — most importantly as an employer — it’s free.”
In an industry where high staff turnover is common and many workers are employed on a casual basis, providing time-intensive and costly training for all staff is often not an option. Users receive a certificate upon completion that can then become a part of their portfolio, alongside other certifications such as food handling and hygiene and Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA).
“We want to give workers within the food service industry the information they need to confidently provide their customers who have allergies with a great dining experience. With so many people diagnosed with food allergies these days, being able to confidently and knowledgably serve customers who have a variety of dietary requirements will make your establishment stand out from the crowd, and keep your customers coming back,” says Said.
“We also want to highlight the responsibility of the consumer to declare their food allergy when eating out. To help consumers to understand their role in managing their food allergy and to support them and their carers in managing their food allergy in many different situations, we have created a quick go to place for top line information on management — a consumer education website.”