Risk, Issues & Crisis

December 5, 2019

A review of the business resilience issues facing the food sector in 2020


The past year has seen a range of issues coming to the fore that have had a significant impact on business resilience and continuity in the food sector. Three in particular stand out and will continue to have a major impact throughout 2020, namely food allergies; food fraud; and climate change.

Food allergies

The rise in food allergies in recent years has been well documented. Between 1995-2016 there was a five-fold increase in peanut allergies in the UK. Food allergies now affect around 7 percent of children in the UK – and hospital admissions for children suffering from allergic reactions have risen every year for the past five years.

In September the inquest into the death of Owen Carey on his 18th birthday highlighted the ongoing issue of allergies in the food service sector. Owen, who had a dairy allergy, ordered grilled chicken from Byron. He told staff about his allergy, but they didn’t tell him the meal contained buttermilk, which caused a deadly anaphylactic reaction.

Commenting after the Coroner’s Court hearing Owen’s sister told the BBC: “It’s simply not good enough to have a policy which relies on verbal communication between the customer and their server, which often takes place in a busy, noisy restaurant where the turnover of staff is high and many of their customers are very young.”

For non-pre-packed food, such as that sold in a restaurant, information for every item that contains any of the 14 allergens must be provided, but according to the UK Food Standards Agency, this could be either on a menu, chalkboard or information pack, or through a written notice explaining how customers can find out more information, for example by asking a member of staff for details.

Food business operators (FBOs) with high employee turnover, such as those employing casual staff in a foodservice environment, have the task of ensuring that every new recruit is inducted in the organization’s food safety processes and then follows them unfailingly at all times.

This is no easy task – and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to create a food safety culture within a business – a programme that works for one FBO won’t necessarily work for another. Similarly, activities that work for one part of a business might need adapting for another. Tailoring might also be necessary for employees in different roles, in different locations or in any number of ways specific to the organization.

But perhaps the crucial factor in determining the strength of a food safety culture is the attitude and style of the local leadership. If the local restaurant manager doesn’t demonstrate a strong commitment to food safety, then it is unlikely that their employees will either, even if the senior management team at regional and head office recognises its importance.

Food allergies and how businesses should respond to them isn’t something that is going to go away. This will continue to be a real cause for concern for all sectors of the food industry – not least from calls for tighter legislation following high-profile tragedies such as Owen’s.

This insight was adapted from an article originally published by Continuitycentral.com. Take a look at how food fraud and climate change will continue to have a major impact throughout 2020 here.