Sunrise Senior Living’s first ever Head of Nutrition and Hydration talks about her experience in the role and the challenges she faces particularly with regard to allergy management. With new laws around allergy management coming into force only last year, this is a critical area for the care sector to stay abreast of.
”Catering for people with allergens can be a challenge. Most of us will have experience of this from our own private lives, whether entertaining at home or being out with a friend, colleague or family member with an allergen at a restaurant, only to find that the establishment’s labelling is insufficient. In the worst case scenario, food has to be sent back to avoid a full Madame Doubtfire episode.
”Needless to say, if you yourself suffer from an allergy, you will be acutely aware of the challenges that this throws up in day-to-day life. As the first ever Head of Nutrition and Hydration for Sunrise Senior Living and Gracewell Healthcare, managing allergies is a part of my job, and something that I also deal with on a daily basis.
”In fact, Sunrise is one of the only care providers to employ somebody to my role. Between them, Sunrise and Gracewell look after 41 communities of residents in areas throughout the UK, catering to over 3500 people, so the task of ensuring systems are in place to avoid the contamination of food is a vital part of what I do.
”Gluten, nuts, milk and fish are four of the most common allergens, but people can also be allergic to things like mustard, celery and sesame seeds, all of which feature in our normal catering.
”Although there are several processes involved in delivering food to residents safely, these fit into three broad categories which we implement across the organisation: training, labelling, and personalisation.
”Training is essential, and not only for chefs. All staff will know when to spot symptoms of a reaction, whether involved in catering or otherwise. Yet, of course, training for food preparation teams including separating particular ingredients and learning to cook quality allergen free dishes is a major part of our approach.
”Labelling processes mean things like recipe cards, containing the entire ingredients of a given meal, are clearly displayed and available to customers. But before food even reaches the plate ingredients will be known to ‘gatekeepers’ as I call them; the individuals who safeguard food coming in to the buildings, whether chefs or reception or concierge staff. Chefs are told who has an allergy or intolerance, such as coeliac disease, so that suitable steps can be taken to ensure the safe preparation of the food.
So personalisation is fundamental. The easy option to avoid allergy risks would be to cut food containing potential allergens form our menus completely, but at Sunrise we staunchly reject this approach. Residents are catered for by award winning, restaurant standard chefs, and deserve the choice provided by the full range of food groups. Moreover, suddenly removing food from people’s diets risks malnutrition and exacerbating dietary deficiencies. Neither would we prevent families from bringing food to their loved ones, though we ask them to manage this through providing recipe cards.
”Undoubtedly the toughest part of the job is around bistros and events, with various food options and lots of people around. Making sure that our three principles of allergy management are applied is even more crucial in these circumstances.
”Managing allergies is only a part of what I do, but it’s a vitally important part. Sunrise was ahead of new laws on allergy management which came into force last year, and remains a leader in this area. I’m proud to support the health of our residents through securing their as safety as well as their nutrition.”