Catering industry urged to get serious about food allergies - NI

  • Issued on behalf of safefood and Co-operation & Working Together (CAWT)
  • New research from safefood has revealed the need for food businesses to train their staff on food allergies.

2, February 2007. The research, to be revealed for the first time at a one day cross border conference, ‘Food Allergy – the Facts on a Plate’, shows that staff in food businesses including sandwich bars, cafes, supermarkets and forecourt shops were unable to give allergy sufferers accurate advice about the food they were ordering.

When asked by the Environmental Health Officers who carried out the research, serving staff failed to give accurate advice. Across the island of Ireland, 55% of samples which tested positive for peanut protein came with the wrong advice.

In Northern Ireland, 17% of the samples sold to Environmental Health Officers who claimed to have a peanut allergy actually tested positive for peanut protein. Across the island of Ireland, 1 in 10 serving staff showed no understanding or awareness of peanut allergy.

The research findings come as a one day joint European Union and safefood sponsored conference launches a new pilot cross border training programme for Environmental Health Officers in the Southern and Western Health & Social Services Board areas in Northern Ireland and the North Eastern and North Western HSE areas in the Republic of Ireland.

Funded by safefood and the European Union INTEREG IIIA programme through CAWT (Co-operation and Working Together), the training programme will not only enable Environmental Health Officers to better advise and support their local food businesses, it will give them the tools to cascade the training to those businesses. It is hoped that if the pilot is successful, that this innovative training could be made available to Environmental Health Officers across the island.

Dr Ian Leitch, Project Manager for the conference and training programme for safefood and CAWT said: “The number of people living with a food related allergy in the UK is estimated that between 1-2%  of the population. Symptoms can range from runny eyes and itchy skin to, in extreme cases, breathing difficulties and a dramatic drop in blood pressure known as anaphylactic shock, which can be life threatening. Those living with food allergies need to be able to accurately assess the risk of eating any food and failure to provide them with accurate information can lead to a potentially life threatening reaction.

“We are urging food businesses to know their products and their ingredients, and become aware of the foods that are mostly likely to trigger a reaction such as peanuts, nuts and seeds. Vitally, staff should be able to give accurate advice to consumers with allergies. The training programme we are launching today will help Environmental Health Officers on both sides of the border address all these issues with their local businesses.”

The ‘Food Allergy - The Facts on a Plate’ conference takes place on 8th February and will include presentations from Professor Jonathan Hourihane, Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health at Cork University Hospital and local chef, Andy Rea of the Mourne Seafood Bar in Belfast as well as representatives for support organisations, Allergy NI, the Irish Anaphylaxis Campaign and Allergy Action UK. Conference delegates will also hear from parents living with children with allergies.


  1. The safefood research results outlined above are based on 316 food samples taken from a wide range of food businesses (forecourt shops, supermarkets, kitchen bakeries, market stalls, sandwich bars, cafes, delicatessens and ice cream stands). Samples were collected by Environmental Health Officers across the island of Ireland and the testing of all samples was carried out by the Public Analyst’s laboratory, Dublin.
  2. A full conference programme is attached - to request an interview with any of the conference speakers, please contact Sarah Young or Kathy Doyle, IAS SMARTS on 028 9039 5500.
  3. The conference is part of a training programme for Environmental Health Officers in the Border Region in the area of Food Allergen control which is funded by safefood and part financed by the European Union through the INTERREG IIIA Programme for Ireland/Northern Ireland 2000-2006 managed for the Special EU Programmes Body by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety for Northern Ireland and the Department of Health and Children.
  4. The pilot training programme will be delivered for safefood and CAWT by Hygiene Audit Systems.