As Early Years professionals, you will be very aware of the need for allergy awareness in your workplace. When we designed our food hygiene certificate course we made sure that we included plenty of information on the allergen groups specifically for the Early Years sector. Sometimes, as I did recently, you overhear things that make your blood run cold, and you realise how necessary training is. Let me explain.
Recently, I was sitting in a coffee shop and, as it was such a lovely day, the shutters had been thrown open. With the windows open wide you could hear the occasional chatter of conversation from the marketplace outside. From somewhere in the crowd, a voice said:
“Well, his mum says he is allergic to something or other, but kids are just fussy, aren’t they? I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
Of course, the voice could have been entirely right and the child in question may not have actually had an allergy, but what gave me chills was that this person was clearly prepared to take the risk. It was a casual dismissal of something as important as an allergy in much the same way a dislike of broccoli would have been treated.
Let’s make something perfectly clear. Allergies are not negotiable or variable. For example, in quite a bold move recently, Tesco removed the ‘best before’ date from some fruit and veg because, in many cases, the consumer is quite capable of looking at a product and deciding if it is still good to eat. Allergies are the opposite of this. There is simply no leeway or chance that the allergy will not happen. There is only one judgement call to be made before you give a child food, and it is this:
Does the food contain one or more ingredients this child is allergic to?
If the answer is “yes”, then you simply must not give it to the child. I am sure the person in the market was well-meaning, but the truth is, depending on the allergy response, she could have sent the child into anaphylactic shock resulting in difficulty breathing, weak pulse, and even a fatal outcome. So, if you work in an Early Years environment where food is present, you need to ensure that you are constantly vigilant for any allergy issues with the children.
One of the things to be aware of is the ingredients list on packaged products. Even the smallest amount of an allergen can be enough to trigger an anaphylactic reaction, so if a product is produced in an environment where an allergen is present, it can potentially cause an issue. A warning of cross-contamination and any allergens is usually in bold on a label, so you can spot it easily.
The same rules will apply in even the simplest of food preparation areas, such as nursery kitchens and childcarers’ home kitchens. If there is potential for allergen cross-contamination for a child with sensitivity, then you will need to understand cross-contamination safety and apply a system that fits your workplace, as well as the obvious care not to allow access to the actual allergen itself.
It’s really a matter of understanding the allergens and then applying some clear rules to your particular environment. Obviously, you are trying to reduce the risk to be as close to zero as possible, but, should an accident occur, you will need to be able to prove that you took adequate precautions.
Knowing your allergen groups is an important first step in food safety, so we have a free poster that lists them on our website. Why not print this off and pin it somewhere close to where food is prepared as a reminder?
Allergic reactions are, at best, very unpleasant for a child, and at worst, life-threatening, so it is important to be trained and then be aware of your internal risk reduction procedures.