By Sophia Cornelius, Development Dietitian at apetito

Allergens are extremely prevalent in the UK with an estimated 41 million people, and rising, living with one or more allergy[1].

Whilst there are many types of allergies, food is one of the most widely recognised with three-quarters of care homes reporting that one in four of their residents require allergen-free meals[2]. For most, an allergic reaction will be mild or moderate, but if the reaction is severe, for example if someone is anaphylactic, then it could be fatal.

It is essential that care homes have a robust allergy management policy in place to ensure the health and safety of residents. This policy should include procedures for identifying residents with food allergies upon admission, documenting their allergies, and implementing measures to prevent cross-contamination and accidental exposure. The food standards agency (FSA) state that a resident’s dietary needs should be documented in their care plan and processes put in place to ensure their needs are communicated to those serving the food.

One way to reduce risk of a resident having an allergic reaction is through comprehensive staff training on food allergies, including how to recognise symptoms of an allergic reaction, how to read food labels effectively, and how to handle and prepare allergen-free meals safely (avoiding cross-contamination).

Cross-contamination poses significant risk for residents with severe allergies. Cross-contamination is when a ‘safe food’ has been exposed to an allergen containing food and can occur at any point when food is being handled, including preparation, cooking, storage and serving. Therefore, it can be challenging to avoid, especially if homes are scratch cooking for many residents with varying dietary needs and allergies.

In the recent Nourishing Lives research report conducted by apetito and Care England, it was found that 40% of homes worry about contamination of food when it comes to preparation and that preparing individual dishes to the highest level of food safety was time-consuming.

Using pre-prepared meals can help to mitigate some of these risks for care homes as they will have been produced in a strictly controlled environment, safely packed, and labelled – providing a safe and more convenient option when catering for diverse dietary needs.

Natasha’s Law, introduced in October 2021, states that food prepacked for direct sale (PPDS) must be labelled with the name of the food and a full ingredients list with the allergens emphasised, providing even more peace of mind when using pre-prepared meals. Many homes have altered their approach to catering for allergens following the introduction of this law in ways such as having clear allergen lists displayed on menus, recording residents needs carefully with more readily available lists to staff and Allergen Food & Safety training for all staff members.

[1] About allergy: Allergy UK: National Charity [Internet]. [cited 2024 Apr 19]. Available from:

[2] Nourishing Lives: A New Era of Care Home Dining research report by apetito and Care England. [cited 2024 Apr 19] Available from:

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