Food-Allergy
National Allergy Strategy’s Foodservice Project aims to identify resource gaps in provision of appropriate food for people with allergies

The National Allergy Strategy is a partnership between the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA), the peak medical body for allergy and immunology and Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia, the national patient support organisation.

The strategy has been developed in partnership by these two organisations in consultation with key stakeholders, including representation from medical associations such as the College of General Practitioners, associations representing pharmacists, and engagement with the foodservice sector, Food Standards Australia & New Zealand and state Food Units and Food Authorities.

To find out more about the National Allergy Strategy’s foodservice project we spoke to National Allergy Strategy Coordinator Sandra Vale.

“The strategy was launched in August 2015 and since then we have been fortunate enough to receive funding from the Australian Government to work on three specific projects, one of which is the foodservice project,” Sandra tells us.

“The aim of this is to engage with the foodservice sector to find out where the gaps are in terms of resources, and what needs to happen in food service to improve the provision of appropriate food for people with food allergies.”

The project held a foodservice Forum for food allergy in October 2016 which included representatives from key stakeholders including food authorities, health departments and regulators – “we had representation from those providing food for hospitals, childcare, camp services, quick service restaurants, aged care food service, some large catering companies and food service distributors, plus the Australian Food and Grocery Council and Allergen Bureau – anyone involved in food provision was invited to participate. Where possible we always tried to go to the overarching body that represents the people working within the sector.”

As a result of the forum, some key principles were agreed upon for the development of an online education program to train food service workers in preparing and providing food for people with food allergies. “We realised we needed to make something available online and the key principles were that the training needed to be fast, relatively easy for people to be able to make their way through, and it needed to be freely available,” Sandra explains.

The initial stage of the training will be an online course targeted at front of house, back of house and management as well as providing information specific to particularly vulnerable groups such as people in aged care, childcare and healthcare.

“In a hospital setting, for example, the process for making food and then getting it to the patient is different to what happens in general foodservice, and that’s also the case for food supplied within aged care and so on,” Sandra points out.

Sandra gives the following example to make clear the difference between general foodservice and meals for the healthcare sector: “People usually plan to eat out which gives them time to communicate in advance if they have food allergies. But you can end up in hospital with no warning, and if you have severe food allergy the hospital needs to be able to cater for you. If you are admitted in the early hours of the morning, the usual staff who might be employed during the day to provide food for people with allergies might not be there, and there also may not be someone who can assess what food is suitable for you.

“It’s also important to consider how the food reaches the patient – is it being brought by a nurse, by someone from the kitchen, and have they spoken to the dietitian? There may also be communication issues with patients not being able to tell staff what they need.”

“With food allergy, you may be more vulnerable when you’re unwell, particularly if you have asthma and it is not well controlled, so it is important to identify what food is appropriate and getting the right food to the patient.”

Those who undertake the online course will receive a certificate of completion at the conclusion which they will be able to show their employer. “Foodservice is so diverse and each area has its own challenges,” Sandra emphasises. “Quite often there’s a high turnover of staff, staff who might have English as their second language, or quite young staff, and so we have to be able to cater for all of those groups within the sector.

“We believe the first step is to have something easily accessible that can be used to understand what food allergy is and why it’s important – without it being so over the top that no one’s going to do the training.

“So it’s a question of finding that balance between giving enough information and building skills without going too far that the training’s so onerous that people won’t do it. There are also accredited training courses that can be undertaken, but we’ve found that there is a lot of variability in the level of information around food allergy,” Sandra adds.

“There are a number of courses for the catering sector that have elements of food allergy in them, but what we are trying to do is create a standardised resource that can be accessed by anyone. It’s not going to be potentially the only training, but it will give a very good base level of understanding for catering for people with food allergy.

“We’re also trying to communicate to the foodservice sector how important it is to know what’s in your food and how important it is to be honest about whether you are able to provide appropriate food. Sometimes there’s a lack of understanding about the severity of food allergy and that can sometimes lead to reactions occurring.

“The other side of this is we are also developing resources for individuals with food allergy, because the burden should not only be on the food service sector. We need to educate consumers as well, so everyone understands what their responsibility is in choosing and providing appropriate food. So that work will be undertaken at the same time.”

Sandra says that at this stage the goal is to have both the food service training and community-based resources available by the end of June 2017, as they are currently being developed in parallel. “We are planning to use an existing resource as the basis of the training, but it needs to be updated and new information included and that is being done in consultation with key stakeholders, including consumers.”

She makes the point that the task of the National Allergy Strategy is to facilitate the work being undertaken by bringing the various organisations together – “the National Allergy Strategy aims to facilitate the changes that need to happen to improve the quality of life for people with food allergy.”

Anyone wanting to participate in the further development of the foodservice project should contact Sandra at sandra@allergy.org.au. Updates on the National Allergy Strategy are available online at www.nationalallergystrategy.org.au.

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