Why accurate recording of allergens is essential in the EYFS

December 6, 2018 2:06 pm
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It may now have been a few years since new allergens laws came into place. We understand that many of you will already be practising allergy-friendly and safe childcare, however, with the recent news about companies failing to protect customers with allergies, we thought it was important to remind you of why allergen awareness is so vital.

In this article we are going to talk about:

  1. What food allergy is and which is the most common in children
  2. Recent news and the effect that lack of allergen information can have on an allergy sufferer
  3. How this information relates to an Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Settings
  4. How to cater for food allergies in your setting

1. What is a food allergy and which is the most common in children?

A food allergy is a medical condition in which exposure to certain food triggers a harmful immune response. The symptoms of an allergic reaction to food can range from mild such as an itchy mouth, a few hives, swollen lips or eyes, to a more severe reaction such as nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing and death. Serious food allergies can have a huge effect on the quality of life of many adults and children.

Recent figures confirmed that toddlers are up to twice as likely to be admitted to the hospital with an allergic reaction than the elderly. The most common food allergies amongst toddlers and young children are nuts, cow’s milk and eggs. Other foods that can cause a reaction include wheat, fish and shellfish, but many international children may have an adverse reaction to other types of food depending on their country of origin. For example, many southern European children may be allergic to peaches or apples.

2. Recent news and the effect that lack of allergy information can have on an allergy sufferer

In the UK, an estimated 2 million people are living with food allergies, 5-8% of these are children (Allergy UK).

Muriel Simmons, the chief executive of the charity Allergy UK  says, ‘’What is worrying is that the number of children with severe allergies such as nuts has tripled in the last 10 years.’’

The most talked-about case you may have read about is Natasha Ednan-Laperouse who suffered a fatal reaction to sesame in a Pret A Manger baguette after purchasing it at a cafe at Heathrow airport in 2016.

A year later, Celia Marsh from Melksham passed away after eating one of Pret’s ‘super-veg rainbow flatbreads’ that was meant to be dairy-free.

According to the EU regulations, sesame is one of the 14 allergens that consumers must be made aware of when it is used as an ingredient in food products. However, current UK regulations mean that some foods, such as freshly made non-packaged foods like the baguette Ednan purchased, do not fall under these rules.

These 2 cases show us how serious a food allergy can be and highlight the importance of accurately recorded allergy information.

Allergy UK is now calling for changes to regulations for food chains preparing food on their premises.

FSA, Allergy UK and the Anaphylaxis campaign have created a campaign called #easytoASK which works to encourage people, especially young people and children, to ask for allergen information when they are eating out. These charities agree it is the reasonability of companies as well as allergy suffers (or their parents) to check the allergy information when buying food out, but more does need to be done to make food allergy labelling clearer.

3. How this information relates to an Early Years Foundation Stage setting

As more and more children are developing allergies, it is important that early years settings are more aware of how to prevent children from coming into contact with certain foods. This can be done by a setting being fully aware of food allergens and recording them accurately.

The Food Standards Agency guidance documents ‘Safer food better business for caterers’ and ‘Safer food better businesses for childminders’ are essential must-haves. These documents comply with the law regarding food safety and hygiene and cover subjects from basic hygiene to cross-contamination.

As you may be aware, in 2014 the introduction of allergen rules means it is a legal requirement for any business that provides food and drinks to provide information about the allergenic ingredients used in the food and drink they serve. This ensures that appropriate meals and snacks are provided for children with allergies.

It is suggested for early year foundation stage settings that provide non-pre-packaged food that they provide information on allergenic ingredients by, for example, displaying a meal chart in the kitchen with a list of the 14 allergens.

Because allergen recording and awareness are so important in early settings that provide food, we have created this simple and effective daily meals allergen chart.

This chart allows EYFS professionals to record the meals that are prepared freshly along with the components and any of the main 14 allergens that may be contained in these meals, as well as note sections for any others.

We have included the addition of a column to record food temperature as this is key to making sure food poisoning is avoided when heating/cooking foods in the setting. This follows the guidelines of the Food Standards Agency.

4. How to cater for food allergies at your setting

To reduce the likelihood that a child has an allergic reaction, good communication between parents and nursery practitioners is vital. It is a legal requirement that you find out from parents if a child has any special dietary requirements, food allergies or special health requirements, and this must be done at the earliest possible opportunity. 

In addition to this, practicing good hygiene by washing your hands whenever you come into contact with food that may cause a potential reaction will help your children stay safe.

We have created a simple but informative allergy awareness poster which states the main 14 allergens and reminds staff to carry out important tasks such as washing their hands before and after preparing food.

Hand washing is also something you can encourage children to practice, especially after lunch when a child may want to play with a friend who has an allergy. Children may not realise the effect a certain food allergy could have on another child, so encourage them not to share their meals or snacks at mealtimes to minimize the risk of a child having an allergic reaction under your care.

Additional useful links

Allergy UK Statisics 

Allergy UK – call for changes to regulations for food chains preparing food on their premises

Early Years Careers – Information for nurseries on the 14 allergens

Food Standards Agency – Cooking your food

Action For Children – Catering for special dietary requirements 

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