The British Dietetic Association (BDA), through its Food Counts! specialist group, and the Hospital Caterers Association (HCA) have worked together to produce and launch a new toolkit that addresses food allergies/intolerances within healthcare catering settings.

The BDA, founded in 1936, is the professional association for dietitians in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is the nation's largest organisation of food and nutrition professionals with over 7,500 members. The BDA is also an active trade union.

The HCA, founded in 1948, aims to promote, develop and improve the standards of catering in hospitals and healthcare establishments in Great Britain, Northern Ireland and elsewhere; the education and training of persons in healthcare catering services, and the provision and improvement of the professional interests and status of those engaged in health care catering services.

Not everyone is able to eat all types of foods safely. Some people experience an adverse reaction when exposed to certain foods. This can either be called a 'food allergy', when the immune system is involved, or a 'food intolerance', when the immune system is not involved. Food allergy can result in an anaphylactic reaction which can be fatal in some cases.

From 13 December 2014, new EU legislation comes into force that will affect how allergen information is provided on prepacked food labels and will also introduce a new requirement to provide allergen information for foods sold or provided loose (non-prepacked).

It will require food caterers such as hospital catering services to be able to provide information to patients, staff and visitors about the presence or use of any of the 14 specified allergens as ingredients in any of the food that they serve, including any food item served to patients at ward level and any food item sold in retail outlets.

To meet these obligations, hospital caterers must know what is in food, and the requirements needed to meet the new legal obligations. Caterers must be able to evidence the exact ingredients used, such as by brand names, and pack sizes, or other information that details what is normally used or that of any replacement.

Speaking about the new allergen toolkit for healthcare catering settings, Helen Ream, Chairman of the BDA's Food Counts! specialist group, said:

"It's been an absolute pleasure to work alongside our catering colleagues to develop this toolkit of information. The toolkit has been written to support our catering and dietetic colleagues in understanding what they need to put in place in order to comply with the new allergen legislation which comes into force in December this year. This is a very important toolkit that addresses some very important issues that face many people."

The National Chairman of the HCA, Andy Jones, added:

"The change in the legislation, which has been long in the 'planning', has led to apathy in the catering sector, so the HCA have taken a lead in co-developing this toolkit, to ensure our Members and all NHS staff have a clear framework to guarantee that patients, staff and visitors are protected when eating in the NHS. We are very keen that the HCA is seen to be driving the changes and ensuring that our Members are ready for the changes, but above all, that their teams are ready and trained."

The Allergen Toolkit for Healthcare Catering can be found at