Writing in her blog, FreeFrom expert Michelle Berriedale-Johnson addresses the issue of avoiding allergen contamination when manufacturing food products or preparing dishes in foodservice operations – a topic of major importance to restaurants and other outlets coming to terms with the new European Allergen Regulations in December.
The Alpro decision
Alpro’s recent decision not to combine the manufacture of their nut and soya milks on one line is described as very good news – not just for those mums of nut- and dairy-allergic children who campaigned so hard to make them change their minds, but for the allergen-free food world in general.
Common sense, however, dictates that there is far less chance of an allergen ever getting into a food if it is never let into a factory in the first place, no matter how good cleaning practices may be. So, realistically, a dedicated gluten/dairy/nut etc-free factory has to be ‘safer’ than one in which those allergens are used.
And, although the initial investment in building dedicated facilities is greater, running costs have to be significantly lower in terms of cleaning, checking, cross checking, monitoring and testing. Not to mention the commercial benefits to be derived from being able to promote yourselves as a ‘dedicated’ facility. And, of course, you can also say farewell to the dreaded precautionary ‘may contain’ labelling which lawyers at least feel is essential on any allergen-free foods manufactured in non-dedicated facilities.
This is the route that those companies who believed that ‘FreeFrom food’ was here to stay took a long time ago. In the 1990s Kinnerton spent a million pounds separating their chocolate factory in two – a dedicated nut free facility entirely cut off from their nut-using facilities – and Bells of Lazonby built one of the first dedicated gluten-free bakeries in the depths of Cumbria.
More recently, Warburton’s new site for their Newburn Bakehouse gluten-free brand, would suggest that the ‘big boys’ of the food industry also see dedication as the way to go.
‘Dedication’ extends into foodservice kitchens
Dedication may also be stretching into food service: Michelle expresses surprise at the number of entries for the new FreeFrom Eating Out Awards (which close for entry this week) for dedicated gluten-free restaurants in which no gluten-containing products are used at all.
While factory production is rigid and therefore relatively easy to control and monitor, producing food in a busy kitchen is a far more haphazard procedure in which it is infinitely more difficult to ensure that gluten-filled and gluten-free, or dairy-filled and dairy-free, ingredients, processes and utensils are kept rigidly apart.
Simplifying matters for the outlet
So never allowing gluten (or dairy, or nuts) onto its premises, simplifies matters hugely for the outlet.
It also gives far more security to allergic/coeliac customers who no longer need to worry whether the ‘normal’ bread roll has got confused with the gluten-free one, or whether the wait-person actually has a clue what you are talking about when you tell them that you are dairy allergic.
And this is not really a very revolutionary concept, as has become apparent from the entry forms for vegan cafés and restaurants. As vegans they have no truck with dairy products or eggs (or, obviously, any meat products) so they are and always have been ‘dedicated’ dairy and egg-free outlets.
Individual food items
There is also a huge opening in food service for individually wrapped ‘freefrom’ foods which can be served to the allergic/coeliac customer in their wrappings, thereby by-passing all the contamination hazards of a restaurant, pub or café kitchen and delivering a product to the customer in which they can have total faith.
Of course, for this to work, the dishes or foods have to be packaged in such a way as to be able to be heated in their packs, and the packs must be sufficiently attractive to be able to be served direct to the table. No one wants a freefrom dish, no matter how gastronomically wonderful, served up in a foil container.
However, this is certainly not rocket science and up-market ‘ordinary’ ready meal companies like Charlie Bigham’s are already serving their dishes in very cute little wooden containers which can go in the oven and then be served on the plate.
Time for food service outlets to consider their options as well as their processes in tackling compliance with the new Regulations…
For the full blog article on dedicated facilities click here
TM Electronics are the FreeFrom partner of Hospitality & Catering News