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Lessons to be learned from Almost Famous inquest

A seven day inquest into the death of student Shahida Shahid has ended with a verdict of misadventure. The jury found that Ms Shahid’s death was a ‘an unintended consequence of a deliberate act’ and that a ‘lack of communication’ between her server and the chef led to her being served a dish containing allergenic ingredients, despite her notifying the restaurant of her allergies prior to placing the order.

Mike Williams is director of leading UK food safety consultancy STS. He says that there are lessons every food business should take away from this case:

“It’s safe to say that the death of Shahida Shahid was not intended by the staff at Almost Famous, however, there was a disregard as to the importance of allergenic ingredient knowledge displayed across the board. As a result a bright, youthful prospect has been lost to her family and friends.  This incident should be a stark reminder to all food business owners, big or small, as to the importance of ensuring all their staff members are aware of the impact that allergens can have. The provision of correct allergen information and clear and concise training of all staff is essential to ensuring consumer safety.

“The inquest into Shahida’s death, apart from revealing a disgraceful lack of care or sense of responsibility by key staff who declined to participate in the inquiry, showed that there was clear uncertainty amongst Almost Famous employees as to which food items contained allergens and which did not. Furthermore, some staff members were seemingly unaware of the allergens in the food – including the in-store trainer! Whilst it may be unfair to expect each individual to know exactly which allergens are in which foods, it is expected that the breakdown of allergenic ingredients per dish is fully documented. When a customer requests a certain allergen free meal but needs help in choosing, it should be standard practice for staff or managers to provide this. It appears that in this case, this care was lacking.

“In summary, training for front of house staff should include the following as a minimum:

·         What procedures to follow if a guest requests allergen free foods

·         Where allergen information is held

·         That they should never guess at the content of food and request assistance from a supervisor or manager

“Training for food handlers should include the above but in addition as a minimum:

·         Awareness of the 14 known allergens

·         Methods of controlling allergen cross contamination in the kitchen

·         The risk that substitute food items can present

·         Procedures for preparing allergen free meals, especially where there are multiple allergenic ingredients in the kitchen area, including the use of clean utensils, crockery and pans and where necessary chopping boards that have not been used for any preparation after they were cleaned.

·         The need to pay attention to customer needs and never guess at allergen content questions when presented by staff and managers

“One final point about training is that this needs to be completed on a regular basis. Menu items change as do ingredients and therefore staff must be advised when menu specifications and indeed allergen information sheets are amended. It also does no harm to remind staff of the risks that allergies can provide and it would not be seen as over egging the pudding by keeping them at the forefront of the minds of all food handlers.

“Legislation for the control of allergen ingredients is no longer new. It might have been relatively new when this incident happened at Almost Famous but now, three years after the legislation was introduced, there is no excuse for any food business failing to achieve these requirements.

“Let us hope that all food business operators learn from this incident and that no other family has to go through what the Shahid family has.”

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