Intolerances and Allergies: understanding the differences

Photo by Lidye on Unsplash

The food-hypersensitive consumer includes people who have food allergies, food intolerances and coeliac disease – which have all seen a significant increase in cases over the last few years.

An allergic reaction occurs when the body’s immune system reacts to a particular substance (allergen) as if it’s harmful. Food allergens are generally harmless to most people, but when a person develops a food allergy the body reacts. Reactions can vary from mild – such as a rash, stomach-ache, and vomiting – to more severe reactions such as swelling of the throat and mouth, or an anaphylactic reaction which requires immediate attention. Allergic reactions happen immediately after eating, drinking or, for some sufferers, even simply touching the allergen.

A food intolerance, however, refers to a difficulty digesting certain foods and having an unpleasant physical reaction. Reactions can vary from mild, such as bloating or tummy ache, to more severe gastric cramps or vomiting that may last a couple of days. Contrary to an allergic reaction, an intolerance reaction usually happens a few hours after eating the food.

Coeliac disease is a severe intolerance caused by the immune system attacking and damaging the gut when food containing gluten is consumed. It is an autoimmune disorder primarily affecting the small intestine which can result in long-term health issues, such as the body not being able to absorb the nutrients and vitamins from the food. Like other food intolerances, reactions will occur soon after eating food containing gluten.

Food allergies can start at any age, and whilst children often grow out of allergies such as eggs and milk, some allergies can continue into adulthood. Conversely, allergic reactions can start unexpectedly as an adult. In any case, for an allergy sufferer is very important to eliminate any allergens completely from their diet. 

There is no medication to ‘cure’ food allergies, only to calm down symptoms; antihistamines for mild allergic reactions and AAI devices to stop anaphylactic reactions, which are serious and life-threatening. Once allergens have been identified, it is important to understand the severity of the reactions and plan meals that eliminate the relevant allergens completely from the diet. 

Sometimes children can be encouraged to tolerate certain allergens under strict medical supervision to build a resistance to the allergy; this is common with milk allergies and the process is known as the “The Milk Ladder Challenge”. This approach is taken because mild allergic reactions in childhood could become more severe in adulthood, so the idea is to try and treat it early.

Food intolerances are often misunderstood, with assumptions that food intolerances do not cause unpleasant reactions and sufferers being mistaken for ‘fussy eaters.’ Sometimes a food intolerance sufferer can slowly re-introduce the food in very small amounts to try to encourage the body to accept the food again. 

The food hypersensitive consumer is not a passing trend; the numbers are increasing, and the list of dietary requirements is becoming more complex.

If we understand the issues faced by this consumer group and listen to their needs, we will be in a much better position to provide suitable menus which are safe and varied enough for them to enjoy.


Allergy aware month: also known as ‘Allerjanuary’


Everyone is familiar with Dry January – this was created to support those who take part to refrain from any alcohol during the month of January. Following the excess celebrations (even in Lockdown!) many enjoy a drink or three over the festive period.

Veganuary which started in 2014 is gathering support every year. Those who sign up for the challenge commit to eating vegan food for the month of January. This is “better for your health and better for the planet” Eat more plant food! This is not recommended if you have a severe peanut allergy as you may also react to other legumes such as peas and chickpeas. Also not recommended for those with a soya allergy. Some farmers with livestock may not support this campaign either!

Have you heard of “Allerjanuary”? 

Don’t worry you don’t need to give up anything!! This campaign gives you something!

The team at Allergen Accreditation have put together a pack of useful resources to ensure that you and your team have all the information you need to support your allergen management processes. We realise this may not be at the forefront of your minds – is something else going on?

When we do start to re-open our restaurants and café bars, everyone will be coming out to eat, have a socially distanced coffee and a safe meal with family members (which someone else has cooked) The number of customers with allergies in on the increase – please ensure that you and your team are ready to welcome them and offer a range of options suitable for their requirements

The resource pack will provide an update on Natasha’s Law and PPDS.  We have provided a scenario for you to show where Natasha’s law will apply.

The resource pack contains an update on The OneMcPeake Challenge 2021 – we are launching this again to raise vital funds for NARF (Natasha’s Allergy Research Foundation) Have a look and join in to raise awareness of the daily struggles living with allergies. Read through the information to find options for your digital recipe management system and options for training 

Download your free pack here

Or get in touch with me


How to Integrate Allergen Management into your hospitality business

To operate a successful catering business, it is essential that food allergen management is intrinsically linked to the Food Safety Management System and HACCP documents. It must become part of the day to day operations and form part of the culture:

 “It’s what we do around here” 

The minute this becomes something extra, an additional task is when it will be forgotten, and the mantra becomes “it’s not important”.

We know however, due to recent tragic cases that it is vitally important to understand how allergen management processes and procedures will ensure that customers with allergens can eat safely and with confidence in your establishment.

Training for all staff will provide them with the knowledge and confidence to understand the logic behind allergen management. A good starting point is to ensure that all staff complete the online FSA training. This training will provide the basic knowledge for new staff during their induction. 

I would suggest that supervisors, team leaders, chefs and managers undertake a formal training course such as Highfield Training HABC Level 3 Allergen training. This will further develop their understanding about the practical implementation of allergen procedures. 

Online training options are now available –please get in touch

Allergen Awareness Workshops

The advantage of a group training session is that this will create discussion points and provide further information for the attendees that they would not have learnt via an online course. A practical allergen awareness workshop or presentation will also ensure that catering staff have the opportunity to ask questions and encourages discussions about how to manage allergens in the workplace. 

This will of course be available when Covid restrictions allow.

Independent Allergen Audits

In order to reduce cross-contamination it is necessary to walk around the kitchen and assess the current risks. This can be done in-house or an independent auditor can be used to undertake a full allergen audit with the risks and recommendations outlined.

The review of the kitchen processes must begin with the supplier and delivery of products. The supplier must provide full disclosure of allergens present in the product. The chefs must check the products and ensure their recipe specifications are updated and matches the allergen matrix. The Allergen Matrix can be downloaded from the FSA website and will highlight all the allergens present in each dish. Technology has also provided the opportunity to use apps, online recipe management systems and other system. The staff members must have access to the information in a format they can understand.

Storage areas must be organised in such a way that any allergen foods-peanuts, almonds, sesame seeds etc must be placed in a sealed container with purple allergen labels to clearly identify the allergen contained in that container. Allergen labels should also be used in freezers and fridges on any cooked foods stored in these areas. This will ensure all staff using those products are aware of the ingredients contain within.

Once they have the confidence to eat with you, they will become a regular customer and they will tell their friends and talk about their experience on social media. It is important to take this subject seriously and get it right!

Any areas which may present a risk to the allergen management process should be included in the HACCP paperwork, to highlight and address any issues which may affect the end product.  This will ensure due diligence. 

Communication between the chefs and the front of house team must be part of the culture so the chefs can confirm the ingredients in the dishes and can advise front of house staff. Communication between the customer and the catering staff must be honest and accurate to any customers who ask about allergen content. They need to be in a position to make an informed decision about their menu choice based on the information provided by the caterer.

It is worth noting that customers with allergens are increasing – they are an important customer as they bring their friends and family to eat in your establishment. Once they have the confidence to eat with you, they will become a regular customer and they will tell their friends and talk about their experience on social media. It is important to take this subject seriously and get it right! 

Please get in touch if you would like further information

Making the right choices over Christmas turkey – and nut roast

Photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash

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 have managed a very busy catering team and completely understand the last-minute bookings, the stress of organising functions during busy periods of the year. I recognise that the increasing numbers of customers with specific dietary requirements adds to the stress and makes everything more complicated …

However my own daughter started to react to certain food groups at the age of 14 years old. Her dietary needs changed considerably and if she ate the wrong food, she was very ill. She is now 20 years old and does not want or expect special treatment, she just wants to eat out safely with family and friends. My perception of allergen management changed, I now provide advice, training and support for food businesses and I can offer a unique perspective as a professional caterer and parent of a young adult with food allergies.

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! It’s just not worth the risk as many nut allergy sufferers will react immediately if nuts are present (airborne 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. Although a word of warning – the current trend for plant based vegan food will offer a wide range of options, however as peanuts are part of the legume family, we are already seeing an increase in allergies to lentils, chick peas and peas.

What about a traditional Christmas dinner? The stuffing in the turkey, the gravy, the pigs in blankets, are they gluten free? Milk/lactose is often a hidden ingredient, what was used on the honey glazed carrots just honey or is melted butter added? Brandy butter sauce, sulphites in dried fruits – is it even safe to go out for Christmas dinner if you have a food allergy?

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. 
  • Ensure that the chefs and restaurant manager always ensure that a pre-service brief is held before each service. 
  • Good communication is vital so that the chefs and FOH teams work together and follow strict allergen procedures.
  • If using temporary staff during the busy period, ensure that they have had some allergen training as if an incident occurs, your reputation is at stake as well as the health of the customer.
  • Plan the Christmas meal carefully and check the ingredients. Many stocks and sauces are now free from the #top14allergens. 
  • To reduce the risk, eliminate as many allergens as possible from the ingredient list. Cook meals using fresh ingredients. 
  • Ensure that the allergen file is accurate and up to-date. 
  • Alternatively use an electronic recipe management system which can be updated immediately if any ingredients change.
  • Ask yourself- If I have an allergy “Can I eat here?” Can recipes be adapted easily to suit a range of dietary requests.?
  • Do you have strict allergen procedures in place to reduce the risk of cross-contamination as far as possible? A busy working kitchen is not a sterile factory environment, but with care and planning the risk can be reduced.
  • Talk to your customer and be honest. Understand the severity of their allergy and respect their decisions. A customer with a severe, life-threatening allergy is depending on you to provide food which is safe for them to eat. 
  • Try to put yourself in your customer’s position. They don’t want to make a fuss; they just want to enjoy the occasion and they need to trust you- remember it’s not their fault!!

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.  

Have a very busy, stress-free, safe Christmas and New Year!


I have 35 years’ experience within the catering industry and over the last few years I have seen a significant rise in the number of special dietary requirements for customers eating out. I also have seen for myself the impact that suffering with an allergy or food intolerance has on a person’s daily life.

I was Head of Catering at Manchester Metropolitan University for over 9 years and whilst we were adapting to the new laws relating to allergies I suddenly had to cope with my daughter- 15 years old at the time – suffering with reactions to food groups. Sophie, in her GCSE year at school suffered reactions to food that kept her off school for at least 3 days at a time. This affected her attendance at school and added to the stressful GCSE exam period.

Now 19 years old and just completed her 1st year at University she is now managing her diet well. Her meals are now gluten free, lactose free, no potatoes and no maize and is quite complicated to find foods to suit but with imagination we now have quite a good set of “go to” recipes.

I had not really appreciated that food allergies affect your daily life in such a way and the   University students are a particularly vulnerable group. Students are away from home adjusting to independent living and cooking and shopping for themselves. Not wanting to appear different and trying to eat out become a cause for concern and this can be a challenge.

 I am so passionate about making a difference, I decided to leave my employment at MMU to set up my own business, JACS Ltd. I provide allergen training, support, advice and also work with Allergen Accreditation to support FBO to ensure they are providing allergy free food in a safe environment.  

The #onemcpeakechallenge’19 now in its 2nd year has been launched to highlight the issues faced by an allergy sufferer on a daily basis- eating out, shopping and cooking all have to be undertaken with an extra level of care. I have set the challenge to my team previously at Manchester Metropolitan University and it proved to be a very successful exercise.

All participants will remove one key allergen from their diet for 2 weeks and will report back their experiences good and bad. We are particularly interested in engaging those in the catering industry so that they have a better understanding of their allergy customer’s needs

The money raised will provide much needed funds to support TheAWord in their campaign to support Anaphylaxis and Allergies. This challenge was very successful last year and we are hoping to raise more awareness and more funds this year

The #onemcpeakechallenge’19 has now gone live to allow participants time to plan and organise for the 2 weeks in October. The Challenge will take place from 1st -15th October and everyone is encouraged to join in or just donate at the GoFundMe page.

Useful Links


JACS ltd

Allergen Accreditation