Incorrectly packaged products from dark kitchens and pub kitchens serving takeaways have led to a slip in safety standards around allergens during the pandemic, a leading expert has warned.
Many operators have introduced takeaway services in response to the crisis, while home bakeries have also provided a lifeline for many.
Kirstie Jones, environmental health officer at Navitas Safety, said there were genuine concerns that some companies could be putting customers at risk.
She said that although the majority of dark kitchens are well-managed by large, reputable companies or aggregators, others simply weren’t operating to the same protocols.
“There are usually little to no controls in place so allergen information can also be missed, causing issues with inaccuracies. Legally, an operator is not allowed to tell a customer that they aacre unsure of the allergenic content of any food produced and available on the menu.”
Ms Jones said the pandemic had seen an increase in establishments such as pubs making remote sales, whereby customers can place online food orders and have freshly-cooked meals delivered to their door.
Although these outlets would typically have the proper food safety measures in place on-site, they may not have realised that the rules, regulations and requirements are different when switching to an online service.
“For online sales, allergen information must be available at the point of selection and the point of delivery.
Usually, restaurants would have this information available on their physical menus so they must ensure this is accurately uploaded to their list of online options, too.
“And at the point of delivery, consideration must be given to how the information will be communicated, whether this be stickers with the full list of ingredients or provision of a physical menu, for example.”
“But introducing this additional step creates another element of a food operation that needs to be continuously monitored and managed.”
Ms Jones said that in all cases, allergen information needs to be accurate and readily available.
“There needs to be one chosen method that is implemented consistently to avoid instances of providing inaccurate information that may cause an allergy sufferer to become ill or even die from a severe reaction.”
New allergen labelling laws are due to come into force on 1 October 2021 requiring food that is prepared and packaged in advance for takeaway to contain the ingredients and allergens listed on the label.