Food for thought: allergen information.

Understand allergen hot spots for a safer supply chain, thanks to data management.


When it comes to allergens, your data becomes a life and death issue – but there’s more to it than basic safety. We look at how you can use data to offer diners with allergies a better experience.  

In the last year, the commercial food industry has been shaken by several tragic – and entirely avoidable – incidents due to missing, incomplete or inaccurate allergen information.

When it comes to allergies, it’s one of the rare instances where your data shifts from being a useful resource to critical information.

The current legal requirement in the UK states that any establishment serving food must be able to communicate information on the 14 common allergens to customers – but it doesn’t specify how. As such, the responsibility often sits with servers and chefs to discuss ingredients at the table. 

Which is all well and good – if both your servers and the chefs are utterly confident that the information is correct. For some ingredients, it’s simple: a fresh lettuce leaf is a fresh lettuce leaf, and if it’s been stored correctly, it’s very unlikely to be contaminated by any other product. 

Yet when it comes to food – or ingredients – produced, stored or prepared off-site, it becomes much more difficult. Are you sure your chocolate brownie is really nut free? Maybe your brioche buns are produced in a factory that also processes sesame buns. The risk is less obvious, and while the law states that you must warn customers of any potential allergens on request, it leaves a great deal to human error and the way that information is communicated between staff and diner.

Avoiding risks 

Sometimes, this uncertainty can cause servers to err on the side of extreme caution. But just like those ‘may contain nuts’ notices found on almost every cereal box, biscuit tin and cake packet in the land, this approach is frustrating and alienating to customers. They don’t want to avoid foods that they don’t have to: they want the same enjoyable experience as their fellow diners. 

And as the hospitality industry becomes more entrenched in digital, uncertainty just isn’t good enough. 

Key ingredient: data 

As our last blog explained, every commercially available food item comes with a long chain of data. From the farm, through factories, storage facilities, delivery and preparation, all the way to your customer’s fork (and even their subsequent TripAdvisor review), food is collecting data, and it should give any food establishment all the information it needs to share helpful, accurate allergen information. 

The question is, are you putting that information to good use? Do you feel that you have enough control – and confidence – over that data, not just in your establishment, but throughout the supply chain?

Fresh, quality data 

To develop a truly robust allergen policy, you need to know that your data – and the data of your suppliers – is up to date, accurate, and complete. 

You need to know that whoever is handling your data understands its importance, and knows exactly how to edit, input and extract from the system. 

Essentially, you need to know that every person is reading from the same recipe sheet. The longer your supply chain – and the larger your organisation – the more daunting that can seem. But it is possible – in fact, with the right support, it’s simple, and it can transform more than just your allergen information activity. Read our previous article here.

As part of every digital transformation, data is your key ingredient. Using a digital initiative to ensure that data is accurate throughout your supply chain enables you to identify – and strengthen – data weak spots, address data inputting and extraction challenges, and ensure that any systems processing the data are properly integrated.

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Hazards: where can allergens hit?

Here are some of the biggest problems areas when it comes to allergens, where data plays a vital role in ensuring customer safety:


Hazard hot spot: Ingredients, cross-contamination, labelling. It goes without saying that correct data from the factory will filter down to every other part of the chain. Data governance and quality at this step is crucial. 

Storage and transport 

Hazard hot-spot: Cross-contamination. Loose products stored together can create contact allergens: this is particularly a risk with baked goods like bread and cakes. Access to data enables logistics managers to avert risks, with packaging options or alternative transportation. 


Hazard hot spot: Packaged ingredients, cross-contamination, bad communication. Access to data can give every person in the kitchen – from head chef to porter – the information they need to avoid allergy risks.


Hazard hot spot: Hidden allergens, like marinades or preparation ingredients. With access to data, servers can understand invisible risks. 

Coming up...

At Comma, we work with clients during digital transformation, creating data management strategies that enable them to achieve their data goals.

In our latest series of blogs, we’ll be looking at the most common ‘pains’ and ‘gains’ in the food distribution and hospitality sector, and show how effective data management can make a difference at every step in the supply chain.

Allergens:  Are you confident that you have a full understanding of the allergens in your supply chain - from production and storage to preparing and serving?


Cost:  How much do your recipes really cost? Are you over-enrolling servers and chefs at off-peak hours? More detailed insight means narrower margins.

Stock issues:  Over ordering, under ordering, failing to customise stock orders for different outlets...stock issues can range from minor to major, but many go unnoticed.  

Consistency:  How can you maintain consistency across different locations, suppliers, and teams – and what can cohesive data bring to the business?


Logistics:  Using data to understand the way your produce is prepared, shipped, stored and served, to tighten up your logistics.

Adding value:  Whether it’s online ordering, menu customisation, or an innovative new use for data, understand how to put data to work in the digital age.

Responding to trends:  Still serving maris piper when it’s all about sweet potato fries? We’ll show you how you can respond quickly to trends using digital insight and implementation.


Find out more about Comma’s services here or call us on +44 1926 911820 to talk to us about your strategy and what we can do to help.