New research has found that adverse reactions to food are occurring in Australia’s healthcare facilities due to inadequate systems and processes, and 93 per cent of healthcare facility employees want to improve their allergen knowledge.

Nearly 100 healthcare workers from facilities across the country, including aged care, private and public hospitals, responded to a survey investigating the current need for allergen management training and resources.

Other key findings include:

  • Nearly half (47%) of respondents want better processes to ensure staff are communicating effectively about specific dietary requirements.
  • 1 in 4 (24%) respondents said their facility doesn’t offer allergen management training at induction, or as required, offering it only annually or not at all.
  • Best practices to prevent cross contamination are not being used across the board. 44% are not using separate work areas for allergen free meals, 1 in 6 are not cleaning food preparation surfaces before allergen free meals are prepared, and 1 in 9 are not labelling food that has been removed from its original packaging.

Australia has the highest incidence of food allergy in the world and coeliac disease now affects 1 in 70 Australians. For those living with food allergy or coeliac disease, accidentally consuming the wrong foods can have serious health complications.

Karen Kingham, Brand Nutritionist at Nestlé Professional, said because Australia has a high prevalence of food allergy and coeliac disease, minimising the risk of food cross contamination should be prioritised by healthcare providers.

“As a company that provides food solutions to cater for specific dietary requirements, Nestlé Professional conducted this research to better understand the current need for training and resources and if best practices are being employed,” Ms Kingham said.

“We now know that current allergen management training doesn’t always match industry best practice to keep people in healthcare facilities safe from food-related adverse reactions, and we are taking action to help correct this,” said Ms Kingham.

In addition to simplifying menu planning and kitchen workload with a portfolio of products to help deliver specific allergen free menus, Nestlé Professional has also created a series of free, easy-to-follow yet comprehensive allergen management resources for healthcare providers.

The main resource, ‘Gluten & Other Allergens in Healthcare: Your Practical Guide’, is based on best practice guidelines by QLD Health and developed in consultation with both Coeliac Australia, the Institute of Hospitality in Healthcare, and other relevant industry organisations.

Meals on Wheels chef Tony Lyons prepares up to 2000 meals a week and says the allergen management resources have been extremely helpful in ensuring staff are adequately trained.

“I’ve worked at Meals on Wheels for 17 years and training is the biggest challenge when it comes to allergen management. The Nestlé Professional resources are so simple and easy to follow that they can be used by those with limited experience in food service, or even those who have English as a second language.”

“It has really taken the stress out of onboarding staff and makes me feel confident that we have the best possible processes in place,” said Mr Lyons.

The free educational resources include a practical guide, fact sheets and online editable food allergen matrix, and can be downloaded here.

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