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Working with universities to raise awareness of allergens

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I have been working with the fantastic catering team at the University of Wolverhampton to increase their awareness of allergens and to ensure that the students attending this university will be looked after whilst living away from home.

It has been recognised that university students with food allergies are a vulnerable group. Living away from home, often for the first time everything will be unfamiliar to them. Settling into new accommodation with new friends is difficult enough but suffering with a potentially life-threatening food allergy is a challenge. Peer pressure, not wanting to feel different, Mum’s not cooking and shopping for the student anymore and trying new food and drink are all adding to the problem.

Luckily catering departments at Universities are very aware of the problems and are providing safe food for their students.

The University of Wolverhampton catering team led by the commercial service manager Amanda Shipley and her managers David Robinson and Stuart Rutty have recognised that their students with allergies deserve a consistently good food offer which is safe for them to eat. They had an in-depth rigorous audit to check their Allergen Management policies and procedures and were successful in achieving Allergen Accreditation status which is valid for 3 years.

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David Robinson, the catering manager led his team through the audit making changes to his allergen management procedures as required. David was very keen that the team understood the need to ensure that the procedures were understood and the reasons behind them.

I was invited to return to Wolverhampton for the first of three Allergen Awareness Workshops. I present these in a relaxed group of team members with a mix of presentation, video clips and interactive activities. The group found it very interesting and learnt new facts .

I asked the group when we had finished to write down 3 things they had learnt from the session and 3 things they were going to do differently.

I was really pleased with the responses as clearly the groups had found the information interesting and they were going to put into practice some of the advice I had given.

What’s in the pots?

When the 1st day of workshops had finished I was delighted to receive great feedback from David:

“Really great day today, scary knowing that the actions we take can potentially cause loss of life; all food handlers must do this course. Jacqui is really good at putting across this point”

Other members of the group had told me that they were now going to take some of the lesser known allergens seriously as they hadn’t realised that they could also result in Anaphylaxis.

Food allergies, as we know, are on the increase and schools are reporting more complex multi -allergen-free diets in children.

If you have read this blog and are interested in the workshops or you want more information on the Allergen Accreditation scheme then please visit my website for more information . The workshops can be tailored for any audience .

“The more we learn, the better we cater”

Why is it important to raise awareness of allergies?

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I am passionate about raising awareness of allergies and have now set up my own business JACS  to support caterers to understand the importance of good allergen management systems. Allergen Accreditation provides a robust framework which ensures the catering teams fully understand the importance of allergens within a catering environment. The Allergen Accreditation certificate will reassure those customers with particular dietary needs that they will be looked after and can eat safely.

The reason behind my passion to support customers with allergies is because my own daughter has struggled over the last 4 years with allergic reactions. She has written her own blogpost, which provides an honest insight into how she feels when she is suffering with a reaction. She has bravely provided a number of photos which highlight the physical reactions that she has to cope with on a regular basis.

Please take the time to read 

Join the campaign for Allergy Awareness

 

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We at Allergen Accreditation are launching a campaign in order to raise awareness for allergens, particularly within the catering industry, but also to raise funds for the Anaphylaxis Campaign.

The document on this page outlines our suggestions for how we would like you to participate in this challenge, following your registration for this important campaign. If you are active on social media, such as Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, please post your experiences whilst participating and make sure to include ‘#OneMcpeakeChallenge’  in your post to ensure that a member of the Allergen Accreditation team sees it. You can also email a member of the team, (the email address can be found in the document below).

We would like to once again thank you for showing your support with this campaign and urge you to encourage others you know to take on the challenge, even if just for the experience.

Please contact us for further details on the Industry led Allergen Accreditation scheme which we will provide full support throughout the process.

Registration for the OneMcPeakeChallenge (pdf)

 

 

The reality – one month on!

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Photo by Joanna Boj on Unsplash

After several months of thinking, talking, planning and sleepless nights, this is now a reality. JACS is fully operational and open for business.

So how did I get here? After 9 years working as Head of Catering at Manchester Metropolitan University and the last 3 years working on improving Allergen Management at Manchester Met and more recently across the HE sector I am now on a mission to support food businesses to ensure that their Allergen Management processes and procedures are fit for purpose.

Working as a Senior Allergen Advisor with Allergen Accreditation.

I am in a position to support procedures and to provide a framework to ensure due diligence and compliance within the business. Once the business is ready I will then audit the premises and award an Allergen Accreditation certificate with access to all the latest updates and information. This opportunity has opened a whole new world.

I have attended Hotelympia as an exhibitor which was a new experience – I have previously been to many exhibitions as a visitor. We were very busy with lots of interest and positive enquiries. If you came to our stand you will have received an email and we are now following up these enquiries. We were delighted with the response and encouraged to see that many suppliers are also looking for accreditation which will help Food Business Operators to prove full allergen disclosure in their recipes and on their menus.

I have been to many trade shows as a visitor, had my badge scanned and picked up leaflets and information along the way. It is different when you are the exhibitor- trying to get your message across amongst the biggest trade show is quite the challenge. We had many very interesting discussions including a hotel chain from London who declared that they were really pleased we were there and needed support and advice. Julian Edwards was a speaker on The Futures Stage and I was the assistant handing out information!! I believe the talk went down well – all the seats were full and the attendees were very interested in the topic.

After such a long time working in a very busy role with deadlines, meetings and a team of managers and staff  to consider …I have found the change of  pace and expectations quite different. Here I am sitting in my home office (spare bedroom!) with the radio on and pinging out emails to anyone who may be interested! I have visited colleagues in Universities to offer advice, provide information on the Allergen Accreditation scheme and I have been to London to present to the regional HCA meeting.

I am finding it very rewarding but also an anxious time – I received my P45 earlier this week from my previous employer …that was a very strange moment. It shouldn’t have come as any surprise as this was my decision to leave and start a new business -however when the envelope came I felt quite odd, a little emotional and thought well here we go …no way out now …this is it !!

So with renewed energy and optimism I am looking forward to meeting new colleagues, helping food business’ to become Allergy Aware and ultimately helping those customers with food allergens have a safer and much better experience when they dine out.

April looks to be a promising month with meetings in my diary and another trip to London where I will be attending the Free From Awards evening where I have been shortlisted for a Free From Heroes Award.

University is a “very dangerous time” for students with food allergies

Students who suffer from food allergies are at their most vulnerable when they
start university. As they leave home to go university, it’s a very dangerous time for food allergy sufferers, and caterers should be especially vigilant.

Leaving home for the first time is life-changing for any young person but for those
suffering from food allergies it can be a very especially difficult time because they are
having to manage their allergies for themselves. Prior to this, their parents probably
cooked for them and did the food shopping, checking labels to ensure things are
free from specific allergens.

Peer pressure also has an influence as some allergy sufferers don’t want to feel
different and may not take life-saving medication out with them.

I know the full extent of the stress and anxiety that food allergies can have on
students, as my daughter Sophie is severely allergic to gluten, lactose, potatoes and
maize.

I’ve led a TUCO pilot to create a bespoke Code of Practice for managing food allergens on the Manchester Metropolitan University campus. The pilot was
launched in July last year and the pilot group is due to feedback its thoughts this
month. The main scheme will be launched this July.

In the meantime, universities should try to gain Allergen Accreditation. At MMU, we were one of the first university’s in the country to successfully achieve the
qualification.

Getting the whole team on board is vital. I challenged my team to each
give up one of the 14 food allergens for a month so that they could experience first
hand what people with food allergies and intolerances have to face. I ended up with
24 volunteers and we raised over £1,000 for Allergy UK in the process, but it was a
really interesting exercise.

There are so many misconceptions surrounding food allergies. For example, some
people think it’s a fad or that cooking will kill the allergen, but it’s actually a life-
threatening condition and we need to deal with it in a serious way.