Hi all,

Kevin O’Regan here. With over 25 years of experience as a chef, I’ve witnessed significant changes in kitchens since my humble beginnings at 15 in a local hotel. HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point), the food safety system used globally, has been in place in this country for about 30 years. I still remember my early HACCP course, with senior chefs complaining about the time-consuming procedures and record-keeping.

Reflecting on those times, where the simplest HACCP systems were in place compared to today’s comprehensive norms, I can’t help but smile. I wonder what those senior chefs would say if they were transported to 2023.

Being a staunch advocate of systems in kitchens, almost to the point of obsession, I believe they provide crucial guidance and verification for staff and management alike. Training is the only way we can ensure these systems are fit for purpose and that ongoing training never ends.

Now, I’d like to share my thoughts on the current allergen systems in place across Europe.


Unfortunately, allergens are often treated as an add-on to the HACCP system, turning a critical aspect into a mere box-ticking exercise rather than an independent system deserving dedicated attention. Simply assigning numbers on a menu, offering some training, and hoping for the best is neither a system nor an acceptable approach.

Having shared experiences with fellow chefs, I’ve witnessed instances where unintentional risks were taken – such as garnishing a dish with pesto or serving soup to a customer with a milk allergy. The stress and anxiety felt by chefs in those moments are palpable, and I can only imagine the heightened concern for individuals with allergies.

As a head chef, I made it a point to replace allergenic garnishes with non-allergenic alternatives for all dishes. For instance, substituting pesto with a basil oil may seem like a simple step, but it can be life-saving. Knowing that my customers wouldn’t accidentally be served something they’re allergic to brought me immense peace of mind.

We chefs are driven by creativity and a passion for delivering food that customers love. With this passion comes a significant responsibility to ensure that our food is safe for everyone. Establishing a user-friendly system and educating chefs on it can empower the industry to find allergy-friendly solutions for all dishes and garnishes. In instances where this isn’t possible, transparent and modern communication with customers becomes paramount.

It is crucial that we create an allergen culture similar to the food safety culture that so comfortably exists in kitchens in 2023. 

Understanding Allergic Reactions

When the Immune System Takes Action

An allergic reaction is a complex response that occurs when the immune system encounters a particular substance, known as an allergen. These allergens can be found in common foods. The immune system’s reaction to these allergens is driven by the production of specific antibodies called Immunoglobulin.

The Role of Allergens

Allergens are essentially substances that, under normal circumstances, pose no threat

to the body. However, in individuals with allergies, these seemingly harmless agents become triggers for immune responses.

The Immune System’s Vigilance

Upon exposure to an allergen, the immune system responds by generating Immunoglobulin antibodies. These antibodies are remarkably specialised, targeting the specific allergen they’ve encountered. Picture them as sentinels, poised to neutralise any perceived threat.

The Allergic Reaction Unveiled

When the allergen and antibodies meet, it initiates an allergic reaction. This interaction can yield various symptoms, and their severity can vary. Common manifestations of allergic reactions include swelling of facial features, hives or raised welts on the skin, tingling sensations in the mouth, and gastrointestinal discomfort such as abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhoea.

However, for some individuals, allergic reactions can escalate into a condition known as

anaphylaxis. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. Anaphylaxis may involve symptoms like difficulty breathing, swelling of the tongue or throat, wheezing, persistent coughing, impaired speech, dizziness, or even loss of consciousness, particularly in young children.

Understanding Allergic Reactions: The Takeaway

In essence, allergic reactions represent an intricate interplay between the immune system and substances that, in other circumstances, would be entirely benign. While our immune system serves as our body’s guardian, occasionally, it interprets non-threatening elements as potential dangers.

Common Food Sources of Allergic Reactions: Navigating Allergens in Your Diet

Allergic reactions to food can stem from a variety of sources, making it crucial to understand which foods are most likely to trigger these responses. The most frequent culprits behind food-related allergic reactions include cow’s milk (dairy), egg, wheat containing gluten, peanut, tree nuts, sesame, soy, fish, shellfish, mollusks, and lupin.

Cow’s Milk (Dairy)

Cow’s milk allergy is one of the most prevalent food allergies, particularly among infants and young children. It involves an immune response to proteins found in cow’s milk, such as casein and whey. Common symptoms can include skin reactions, digestive issues, and respiratory problems. Fortunately, there are many dairy alternatives available, including soy milk and almond milk. This ensures those with this allergy can still enjoy nutritious beverages.

Egg Allergy

Eggs, being a staple in numerous recipes, pose a significant concern for individuals with egg allergies. The proteins found in egg whites and yolks can trigger allergic reactions, which range from mild skin irritation to severe respiratory distress. Managing an egg allergy often involves finding egg substitutes for baking and cooking.

Wheat Containing Gluten

For those with gluten allergies, wheat and related grains like barley, rye, and oats can be problematic. Gluten allergy can lead to digestive discomfort, skin rashes, and more severe symptoms. People with this allergy typically need to follow a strict gluten-free diet, which has become more manageable with the availability of gluten-free alternatives.

Peanut and Tree Nut Allergies

Peanuts and tree nuts – including almonds, cashews, and walnuts – are potent allergens. Allergic reactions can range from skin irritations to life-threatening anaphylaxis. Managing nut allergies necessitates careful label reading and avoidance of any products that may contain traces of nuts.

Sesame Allergy

Sesame seeds and sesame oil have gained recognition as common allergens, particularly in recent years. Allergic reactions to sesame can manifest in various forms, including skin reactions, gastrointestinal issues, and respiratory distress. Due to the increasing prevalence of sesame allergies, many countries have implemented allergen labeling laws for sesame-containing products.

Soy Allergy

Soy allergies are often diagnosed in childhood and can cause symptoms like hives, digestive problems, and, in severe cases, anaphylaxis. Soy is a versatile ingredient found in numerous processed foods, making careful label scrutiny crucial for those with this allergy.

Fish and Shellfish Allergies

Fish and shellfish allergies are unique, with individuals often reacting to one group but not the other. These allergies can induce severe reactions, especially if exposure occurs through ingestion or even inhalation of cooking vapors. Management involves strict avoidance and preparedness for any potential reactions.

Molluscs and Lupin Allergies

Mollusc allergies – which encompass shellfish like clams, mussels, and squid – are less common than crustacean allergies but still pose a risk. Lupin, a legume used in some foods as an ingredient or flour, can also trigger allergic reactions. Vigilance and allergen awareness are key for those with these less common allergies.

In Conclusion

Understanding the potential sources of food-related allergic reactions is pivotal for individuals with allergies, as well as for food manufacturers and service providers. With proper education, allergen labelling, and increased awareness, we can collectively create a safer environment for those affected by food allergies. This effort enables individuals to navigate their diets with confidence and a sense of security.