Food Manslaughter Case Highlights Need for Allergen Controls

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27 May 2016

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Mohammed Zaman, a Restaurant owner, was recently given a six-year prison term for Manslaughter after a customer, Paul Wilson, died from severe anaphylactic shock after eating a takeaway curry purchased in one of his establishments which contained peanuts rather than almonds. Prior to Mr. Wilson’s death a different customer had suffered a reaction requiring hospital treatment in one of Mr. Zaman’s six restaurants. During sentencing, Judge Simon Bourne-Arton stated that throughout the case Mr. Zaman remained "in complete and utter denial" about the risks and that he had effectively thrown away his successful business and property portfolio worth £2m "in pursuit of profit". Food Information Regulations Mr. Wilson’s death in January 2014 was prior to the advent of the Food Information Regulations 2014 (FIR) that came into force in December the same year. Since the FIR there is much greater emphasis on the need to provide customers with accurate descriptions of any of 14 allergens[1] within foods prepared by caterers or manufacturers. Manufacturers provided allergen information on the product’s packaging but it can be a little more complicated for caterers. Providing Correct Information Catering businesses can provide allergen information in a number of ways such as identifying whether dishes contain any of the 14 allergens on the menu. Where it is obvious by description e.g. fish pie containing prawns then it is self-evident what is contained and information does not have to be provided. A sign can be displayed in the establishment and/or on menus stating ‘please ask for information on any dishes that may contain allergens’ or words to that effect e.g. the emphasis is on customers to ask the person serving. Catering businesses that choose to provide allergen information orally have to ensure that it is accurate, consistent, verifiable and enforceable. Identifying and Controlling Allergens in Ingredients Caterers should accurately identify what ingredients are in each dish prepared and normally this can be best prepared by using an allergens chart. The chart should identify for each dish which allergen ingredients are present and preferably in each ingredient as well e.g. wheat flour contains gluten so if flour is used in a sauce then this should be identified. Some pre-prepared foods such as pastes used may contain a number of ingredients which may include allergens so some ‘bought-in’ foods should also be listed with any allergens e.g. some stock cubes contain mustard and celery. Cross contamination also needs to be considered e.g. preventing food being contaminated by allergens on receipt, in storage and during preparation and service. Once the chart is in place and the menu is set, the dishes should always be prepared with the same ingredients. If ingredients change then the chart should be changed accordingly to reflect the changes. In the recent curry house case almond paste had been substituted with peanuts[2] to save money; the menu should have been updated to reflect this change but it was not. It is crucial that all staff involved in the process are fully aware of the risks from allergens and be able to inform customers of any allergenic ingredients within all dishes served. This may mean they follow a procedure by checking charts or discuss with the head chef/manager etc. if they are unsure. It is always preferable for them to know what is in each dish, but if in any doubt they should always check. Conclusion In this particular case there appears to have been a complete disregard for safety of others in pursuit of profit and especially highlights the risks where caterers change ingredients without informing customers and ignore requests for allergen-free food. Catering businesses need to fully understand and comply with the FIR in order to prevent unnecessary illness and deaths. Croner provides a number of Food Safety services including Audits, Food Management Systems and Food Hygiene Training. For more information call us free on 0800 032 4088. [1] The 14 allergens are: celery, cereals that contain gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs, mustard, tree nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, soybeans and sulphur dioxide/sulphites [2] Note persons allergic to one nut may not always be allergic to others.

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