Improving Food Allergen Management in Small Food Service Businesses serving Loose Food

Schembri, Paulino (2017) Improving Food Allergen Management in Small Food Service Businesses serving Loose Food. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Food allergens, a concern for an increasing number of people, are common food ingredients found in most kitchens. For the majority of the population these ingredients are harmless yet for about 2% of the global adult population, these ingredients pose a health risk and at times could also be life threatening. There is no known cure for food allergies; therefore abstinence from consumption is the only assurance of food safety which means that controls of ingredients and preparation practices are imperative. This becomes more complex when the food is not prepared by the sensitive individual. To date, literature on food allergens has not sufficiently engaged in the management of allergens in the food service industry.
The food service industry, irrelevant to size, is legally obliged since 2014, to inform the food allergy sufferers of food allergens present in the food served. This requires staff to be knowledgeable of the food allergens. The practices of producing safe food for allergy sufferers are hindered by barriers which are synonymous with the nature of the business and compounded in small food service businesses, however food allergy sufferers trust small business more when eating out.
Understanding key factors in the preparation and serving of food to sensitive individuals required this research to adopt a mixed-method approach in analysing the procedures required in food production and preparation. Initially four allergy sufferers drew attention to their concerns of the practices in the food service industry during a focus group discussion held in Malta. This was followed by investigating the proper management of food by observing current practices in preparation, identifying gaps in training and discussing behavioural change.
This thesis introduces an innovative multi-faceted toolkit which was developed to manage food allergens and tested in three small food businesses. Taking into account the literature review, the innovative toolkit provides a system which logs ingredients for recipe building through matrices, meets the sufferers’ requirements to be informed about the food through QR codes, and overcomes the barriers the food industry has to produce allergen free food.
The research identifies lack of understanding of food allergens and their consequences by the food service staff and the influence this has on the quality of life, as contributors to the lack of trust the allergy sufferers have in the industry. Seventeen staff were trained in food allergen management. The participants’ knowledge was evaluated pre and post training. It was determined that the required change in behaviour to prepare safe food for allergy sufferers requires external drivers, as traditional classroom training alone failed to entrench better practices.
The work provides a holistic understanding of the requirements of food allergens management and the improvements required to achieve effective allergen management training programmes in small food services businesses.

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