Fundraising at St John’s, Cambridge to save lives

So exactly why did I find myself involved in this campaign to help organise the forthcoming Fundraising Dinner at St. John’s College Cambridge …

Approximately 4 years ago I sat in a seminar listening to Michelle Berriedale- Johnson as she talked to the delegates about the most vulnerable group of individuals with food allergies.

These are 15-24-years old, young adults attending college or leaving home for the first time to go to university. This group of young people are starting to become independent, buying food, eating out, drinking alcohol
and mixing with new friends. They may feel awkward within their new peer group, feeling the “odd one out” requiring a specific diet, not being able to walk into any restaurant without checking first if they can cater for customers with allergies. Shopping for food at university and sharing a kitchen with fellow students and trying to explain the dangers of cross-contamination with messy flat mates and a pile of unwashed pans!

This talk struck a chord with me as my teenage daughter who has food allergies/intolerances was planning to attend university and in my role as Head of Catering at a large University, I was on a mission to ensure that my team would be able to provide safe food for all our customers including those with a food allergy.

Moving on 4 years, I now run my own business JACS Ltd and I provide training, advice, practical workshops, presentations and audits for anyone in the business of providing food to customers.

Already supporting the Anaphylaxis Campaign, I was introduced to Emma Dellar who has worked tirelessly in her role as College Nurse at St. John’s College, Cambridge along with her fellow nurses, Cambridge College Nurse Association (CNNA) and they have managed to put a special agreement in
place whereby they are able to have Adrenaline auto injector devices (AAI) available for use in an emergency.

Students often forget to carry their AAI devices with them as they are bulky to carry, not cool and they think it will never happen to them. Within a 2 year period the AAI have been used 4 times … imagine the consequences if emergency medication was not available.

At present schools are able to stock generic AAI devices if they choose to do so, for use in an emergency. Colleges and Universities are not permitted to do this unless a special arrangement is in place. Re-read the first paragraph of this blog … the most vulnerable group of individuals do not
have access to emergency medication.

Emma has co- written an open letter to Department of Health and Government body the MHRA to lobby Parliament to change this and we are both working with Anaphylaxis Campaign to support changes to the current law. We are co-founders of TheAWord and the fundraising dinner will help us to provide the funds necessary to take this to the next step.

St. Johns College is the most amazing venue to hold the dinner to celebrate the Anaphylaxis Campaign’s 25- year anniversary. This magnificent dining hall reminiscent of Harry Potter’s world will be an unforgettable experience. We have 3 amazing speakers who will provide interesting and informative talks to raise awareness of the issues and how we are trying to raise awareness in Colleges and Universities. The black- tie event will also have entertainment and raffle prizes and a first class 4 course dinner with wines and port.

Come and join us, have a weekend away in this magnificent setting and help us make a difference.


The party season and the curse of the nut roast

As we move from Christmas to New Year, the issues around allergen awareness are especially acute.


I have worked in the catering industry for over 30 years. I have experienced busy kitchens during the festive period and the frantic preparations both in the kitchen and front of house.

I remember the days when we had to cater for one or two vegetarians……out came the nut roast. The Christmas menu offered a choice of turkey and the full trimmings or nut roast for the very small number of vegetarians. Was there any consideration at all to the risk of cross contamination from the nut roast for any guests who had a nut allergy? The menu options today for vegetarians will include a wide range of fresh, tasty vegetables and pulses which may also be suitable for guests with food allergies.

Last weekend we planned to go out for a family meal. My younger brother and my niece were coming to visit and we opted to go out for dinner. My youngest daughter has a number of food allergies so as a responsible parent I telephoned the restaurant in advance, booked the table and spoke to the manager about my daughter’s dietary requirements. He reassured me that the chefs always take particular care when preparing meals for customers with food allergies.

When we arrived at the restaurant, I began to get concerned … the table wasn’t ready. I explained that we had pre-booked a table for 8 people.

‘Oh, don’t worry,’  she said. ‘We will get this ready for you now – we have a spare table!’

When we came to place our order, I had to explain again about my daughter’s allergies and I asked about the sweet potato fries which were on the menu as “Gluten Free Available”. I wanted to make sure they didn’t have a coating on and that they would be cooked in a separate fryer. The manager went away to check with the chef and came back to confirm that yes, they were suitable. Surely, he should have known this information?

As a customer in this situation I felt uneasy as my booking details hadn’t been recorded properly and we didn’t feel confident. The meal was fine and thankfully there were no after effects.

As a caterer during the festive season, the days of offering a nut roast and a menu with limited options have long gone. In today’s world if you provide a nut roast on your menu, you will be required to declare all the allergens (nuts) in bold for that dish and for each dish on the menu.

The chef will also need to prepare the nut roast in a separate area to reduce the risk of cross-contamination, or better still eliminate the risk and take it off the menu entirely.

In order to ensure that all your customers feel confident and relaxed whilst dining in your restaurant you must listen to your customer’s requests during the booking stage. Make notes in the booking diary and communicate to your team. Reassure your guests that you can cater for their dietary requests and talk to them about their allergies.

Food Safety Management and Food Allergen Management must be part of the culture….
“It’s what we do around here”.

This is not something extra, this is part of the daily routine to ensure that our customers with dietary requests feel safe and confident. Pre-planning, communication and excellent Food Allergen Management procedures will ensure that the busy catering festive season will be successful.  

‘Their duty of care is to provide safe food to the customer’

Where Pret went wrong.


I was asked for my take on the recent deadly allergy issues at Pret by the Food Consultants Society, and the whole sad episode has highlighted some important issues.

As I told the FCSI, a lack of understanding of allergens is at the heart of the issue.

“A person with an allergy will have to check every ingredient on every product, so by not giving the correct information it puts everybody at risk. I don’t think they thought it through.”

Read more here.

Why Choose Allergen Accreditation?

Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

The team at Allergen Accreditation has recently spearheaded a campaign which was twofold. The aim to increase Allergen Awareness whilst raising funds for the Anaphylaxis Campaign.

The background behind the campaign was that Senior Allergen Advisor and Business Owner of JACS had previously led her team to remove one of the key 14 allergens from their diet in order to “Step in My Shoes” What is it really like to live day to day with any type of allergy? How difficult is it to eat out, shops, cook? The Free From community supported our campaign and took to Twitter and Instagram to share our campaign.

Recent incidents in the press have highlighted the difficulties of eating out with a severe food allergy. Participants of our campaign reported a lack of understanding within the industry. Many customers who plan to eat out in a restaurant will ring in advance quizzing the person who answers to phone. The response to these questions asked will affect whether the customer will book a table in that establishment or not.

Customer “I am ringing to find out if you can cater for my allergies” 

Restaurant “Oh yes, of course, we do all the allergies ???!!”

Customer “Thanks I’ll leave it this time”

There must be a quicker more reliable way to check whether restaurants are on the ball when dealing with their Allergy customers … well of course there is Allergen Accreditation.

This robust audit scheme will ensure that the food business has willingly undertaken an in-depth audit of their business from the suppliers at the back door through to the food served on the plate.

The framework provides the caterer with the opportunity to work through the audit scheme and question their own suppliers, recipes, training and communication process. This will highlight any areas that need improving and once accredited the business can celebrate in the knowledge the customers with food allergies will be treated properly and the food will be safe to eat.

The scheme needs to be publicised widely in order that the customers who would benefit, start to demand that food businesses can provide proof of their ability to cater for them. The Free From customer will feel safe and the restaurant will benefit from repeat business.

The auditors who carry out the process are Senior Allergen Advisors and are very knowledgeable and skilled in this area. They will scrutinise the standardised recipes and ask the teams questions to check their understanding of the process. Suppliers need to provide full disclosure of all allergens and we recommend breaking down the gluten into each specific identity eg rye, wheat, barley need to be identified individually. The methods of communication are also highlighted and the team recommend pre-service briefs from the chef direct to front of house staff.

Once accredited the Senior Allergen Advisor will present the certificate to the team. This is valid for 3 years and should be proudly displayed to provide confidence to your customers that dietary requirements will be catered for.

See also: Allergen Services

Working with universities to raise awareness of allergens


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.


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”