Food Allergies – new trial begins

Food allergies are in the spotlight once again. It has just been revealed that a new food allergy immunotherapy trial has been set up. The clinical trial, which aims to make food allergies a thing of the past, has been launched by the parents of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse. The 15 year-old died after consuming a sandwich containing sesame, to which she was allergic. The sandwich packaging had not been labelled with the allergen.

Following Natasha’s death, the UK’s food allergen labelling legislation was updated to include foods which are termed Pre-packed for Direct Sale (PPDS). The new legislation is commonly referred to as ‘Natasha’s Law.’

Food allergen and Natasha’s Law courses from VWA

Verner Wheelock’s Natasha’s Law online course has already helped several businesses who are selling or serving food to understand the new law and ensure that the products they sell comply with it. For food manufacturers large and small, we also run a Managing Food Allergens in Manufacturing course, which is also available in-house at customers’ own premises.

Around the time of the legislation, the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation was founded by companies such as Greggs, Morrisons, Pret a Manger, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and others. It is this charity which is funding the £2.2M research at the University of Southampton. The trial is beginning clinical immunotherapy trials with milk and peanuts. It is hoped that taking a small dose of these allergens, over time and under medical supervision, will enable people to eventually become tolerant of them.

What are the main food allergy symptoms?

Allergens are considered together with chemical, microbiological and physical hazards when developing a food safety management system. Food allergy symptoms can range from rashes and hives to swollen lips, face, tongue and throat, vomiting, diarrhoea and severe breathing difficulties. In extreme situations, as in Natasha’s case, it can lead to death. This can be avoided if all food handlers are aware of the allergens in their products, take care to avoid cross contamination between products  and communicate effectively with the end user, either via packaging, menus or verbally with customers.  

There are currently 14 allergens which need to be highlighted on packaging. These are peanuts, milk, cereals containing gluten, eggs, crustaceans, fish, sesame, mustard, lupin, sulphur dioxide (sulphites), celery, nuts, soya and molluscs. When labelling your products with food allergens, you need to consider not only your ingredients, but also those of your suppliers. Please also be aware of any changes or substitutions in recipes. You can find out more on the Natasha’s Law online course.

The Winners of the Excellence Awards 2021

Anybody attending a Verner Wheelock course – whether here in Skipton, in-house, or remote – has a chance of being selected for a Verner Wheelock Excellence Award. There are awards for HACCP, Auditing and Food Safety as well as Individual Excellence, Company Excellence and Ethical Excellence.

For the HACCP, Auditing and Food Safety Awards, our trainers and staff nominate delegates throughout the year who have been outstanding during their training and have performed well in examinations.

The Individual Excellence Award is given to a delegate who might not have achieved the highest examination marks but who impressed the trainers with their enthusiasm. Often it is a combination of the two.

Company Excellence and Ethical Excellence awards are presented to those companies which have shown a dedication to the training of their staff and have demonstrated a policy of continuous improvement.

The winners of the 2021 Verner Wheelock Excellence Awards are

Liam Smith

HACCP Student of the Year 2021

Liam Smith, Bradford Metropolitan District Council

Liam, who attended an in-house Level 4 HACCP course said, “I was extremely thrilled and it is an absolute pleasure to be awarded HACCP student of the year 2021. I felt the course was extremely insightful, interesting and applicable to my job role as an Environmental Health Officer. I would also like to personally thank both Verner Wheelock and the trainer Peter, who did a fantastic job of structuring the course to maximise the learning potential; through the application of theoretical content into real life practical examples.”

Kathy Mcconnell

Food Safety Student of the Year 2021

Kathy McConnell
Cranswick plc

“I’m absolutely delighted (and a little shocked!) to have won this award,” said Kathy. “I thought the course provided a good mix of theory and examples of practical applications in a variety of settings, giving everyone views outside of our own industries. Being a virtual course, didn’t deter from the discussions we had throughout the week, which is testament to our course trainers. I would highly recommend this course to others and am looking forward to attending other Verner Wheelock courses in the future.”

Vicky Davidson

Auditing Student of the Year 2021

Vicky Davidson
Thistle Seafoods Ltd

Vicky says, “It was a lovely surprise to win the award.  I really enjoyed the Lead Auditor course from Verner Wheelock. It was organised very well with the full training pack arriving in plenty time before the course with a bonus of some biscuits too! There was a good range of interactive sessions over the days which allowed everyone to get fully involved. Carrying out an actual audit as part of the assessment also gave me some experience there and then.”

Alec Witts and Monica White

Company Excellence Award

Fullers Foods International plc
Osborne Farming Ltd

Samantha Day, Ethical Co-ordinator at Verner Wheelock, says, “This award was well-deserved. Osborne Farming impressed us with their commitment to implementing the ETI Base Code and continuous improvement. They had a SMETA audit that resulted in zero non-conformances and had clearly put lots of effort into preparing for the audit.”

Laura Parham

Individual Excellence Award

Laura Parham
Pret A Manger

Laura said, “I’m grateful to Verner Wheelock for this recognition as part of our ongoing efforts to build the team’s expertise in allergens and food safety. At Pret, training has always been one of our biggest focuses, particularly when introducing new systems or in-shop changes, making sure that staff feel fully comfortable is essential.”

Osborne Farming Ltd

Ethical Excellence Award

Osborne Farming Ltd

Samantha Day, Ethical Co-ordinator at Verner Wheelock, says, “This award was well-deserved. Osborne Farming impressed us with their commitment to implementing the ETI Base Code and continuous improvement. They had a SMETA audit that resulted in zero non-conformances and had clearly put lots of effort into preparing for the audit.”

Congratulations to all our 2021 Award Winners!

Verner Wheelock Welcomes New Team Members

There have been some changes at Verner Wheelock HQ over the past few months.

Mitch Morrison has left for pastures new and Amberley North and Rhyanna Pearson from the Training Support team went on maternity leave in November. Rhyanna gave birth to her first child, Lucy, whilst Amberley’s son, Quinn, is a baby brother for her elder son, Malackai. Can you believe that both babies were actually due on the same day?!

Amberley has been with us since December 2016 and Rhyanna joined in 2018. Both are valued members of the team and we look forward to welcoming them back later this year (and having lots more baby cuddles in between).

The requirement for maternity cover seemed the ideal opportunity for a review of job roles. Amberley had already reduced her hours to 2 days per week, and there was a need for someone to support Samantha Day with administration of the ethical audits. Step forward Stella Hewitt, Jessica Spivey, Vicki Andrews and Nicola Ayrton….

Stella Hewitt

Stella Hewitt

Stella has been on the team since June and is doing a sterling job dealing with day-to-day office admin. She processes all the course bookings and sends out the order confirmations, deals with any queries, organises lunches, deals with examinations, introduces courses, invigilates exams, books our course trainers and any accommodation. Plus 100 other things….

Stella has a 5 year-old son, Bobbie, who keeps her on her toes when she’s not at work. She also enjoys exercise and socialising with friends

Jessica Spivey

Jessica Spivey

18 year old Jess is Stella’s trusty assistant providing maternity cover for Rhyanna. She is responsible for printing and collating all the course materials (both in-house and open). That’s a lot of course folders each week! She also liaises with customers and suppliers, helps Stella process the dozens of emails received every day, answers the phone and orders exam papers. For someone with no previous work experience who has just completed her A’ Levels, she has taken to the job like a duck to water. Jess is staying at VWA until she starts university in the autumn.

In her spare time Jess enjoys watching animé films, walking her dog, Blue, and spending time with her friends.

Nicola Ayrton

Nicola has been temping at VWA for over 4 years now, so we’re really pleased to announce that she has agreed to work for us on a permanent basis. Nicola is responsible for credit control and also provides admin support to Claire, our Business Development Executive and the Training Support team. She is extremely versatile and simply great to have around.

Nicola is busy preparing for her wedding this summer. She also enjoys taking her French Bulldog, Phoebe, for long walks in the Yorkshire countryside.

Vicki Andrews

Vicki Andrews

Last, but not least, is Vicki. Vicki has only been with us since December, but we have already worked out that she is an IT wizard. If there is a faster way of doing a task on Excel, Word or any other programme, she is all over it! Vicki’s main role is providing admin support to Sam, our Ethical Audit Co-ordinator. Last year Verner Wheelock carried out more than 170 SMETA ethical audits, so having Vicki on board is a total godsend. Her main tasks will be sending out order confirmations to customers, chasing for information, updating contacts, checking audit reports and any other admin work.

Vicki has two children and is a keen photographer. She also enjoys living the country life, painting watercolours and sewing.

More information on our Ethical Audits.

A rundown of all our Training Courses.

Support Project Waterfall during UK Coffee Week

Coffee Week

The economic recession certainly doesn’t appear to have affected Britain’s coffee shops, which are continuing to expand at a rate of knots. From small independent cafes to the big names like Starbucks, Costa, Pret a Manger and Cafe Nero, they’re breeding like rabbits! It seems we Brits can’t get enough espressos, lattes, macchiatos, cappuccinos, americanos  or even the plain old instant stuff out of a jar. So it’s no surprise that, according to statistics, the UK coffee sector has grown by 6% in the past 12 months alone, representing an estimated sales value of £5.4 billion.

What better time, then, to capitalise on this craving for caffeine and draw attention to the plight of the hardworking people harvesting the beans? Whilst we think nothing of turning on the tap and sticking the kettle on for a brew, almost half the population of Tanzania (46%) don’t have access to a clean source of water. In the past year approximately 20,000 children from the area died because the water they drank was unsafe and they were living in insanitary conditions.

This week (18 – 24 October 2021) is UK Coffee Week ( ).  Dubbed “The Nation’s biggest celebration of coffee” it is being supported by thousands of companies, not just the well-known coffee chains, but also smaller cafes, canteens and workplaces. The aim of the campaign is to raise money for Project Waterfall, a charitable initiative delivering clean water projects in African coffee-producing countries, such as Tanzania. Customers at participating outlets selling coffee are being encouraged to add a voluntary 5 pence to the cost of their purchase – the equivalent of providing clean water to one person for a single day. Workplaces providing coffee are asking employees to make a donation every time they have a cuppa.

It’s great cause, so let’s support it! If we can afford upwards of £2 for a coffee, we can certainly afford an extra five pence.

Taking the ‘staff’ out of Staphylococcus aureus

Campylobacter, E-coli and salmonella – everybody’s heard of them and knows that they’re the bacteria responsible for many food poisoning outbreaks. Staphylococcus aureus is not one that readily trips off the tongue and yet it’s actually classed as a superbug.

If this unpleasant critter gets into your bloodstream you’ll be seriously ill and could even die. As with all serious infections, there are different strains. The most virulent strain of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria is one we’ve all heard of: MRSA. This stands for Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. MRSA is particularly difficult to treat because it’s resistant to many antibiotics.

It’s also really quite easy to contaminate food with Staphylococcus aureus. It occurs naturally on the skin and in the nose of around one-third of all human beings. It can live quite happily on the skin, but if it is allowed to transfer to food, it’s a very different story. That’s why anybody working within the food industry needs to be aware of its presence and how contamination can be prevented.

Which foods are most likely to be contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus?

pilons de pouletThere are certain types of food that are more susceptible to Staphylococcus aureus contamination than others. These are typically high protein products. Cooked poultry, seafood and egg products can either be handled during preparation or stored at the wrong temperature before consumption. Foods made by hand contact which don’t require any additional cooking are also at risk.

Other examples include cream-filled bakery products. They’re handled whilst the cream in inserted. Another interesting fact about Staphylococcus aureus is that it’s less likely to be found on raw products where several other organisms are present. Because bakery products tend to have a higher sugar content, this inhibits the growth of other organisms, allowing Staphylococcus aureus bacteria to thrive.

Warm temperatures help Staphylococcus aureus to multiply rapidly, so for this reason dry pasta has also been the source of some outbreaks. Additionally, the extrusion equipment used to produce the pasta is difficult to clean creating an ideal environment for the bug.

How to control Staphylococcus aureus

The primary control measures to inhibit the presence and growth potential of Staphylococcus are time and temperature. (You can find out all about this on our Level 3 Food Safety course). However once the bacteria has entered the food and begun to multiply it is practically impossible to eliminate, even by heating to temperatures of over 121°C for several minutes.

Washing Hands with SoapProduct formulation can also guard against growth of the bacteria. However, since the primary source is staff, personal hygiene is incredibly important in any prevention programme.

How you can help prevent Staphylococcus aureus toxins from forming in food

  • Wash hands and under fingernails vigorously with soap and water before handling and preparing food.
  • Do not prepare food if you have a nose or eye infection.
  • Do not prepare or serve food for others if you have wounds or skin infections on your hands or wrists – this is how Staphylococcus aureus can enter the bloodstream
  • Keep kitchens and food-serving areas clean and sanitised.
  • If food is prepared more than two hours before serving, keep hot foods hot (over 60° C) and cold foods cold (5°C or under).
  • Store cooked food in a wide, shallow container and refrigerate as soon as possible

Typical symptoms and onset period

The average time for someone to experience food poisoning symptoms after consumption of food containing the Staphylococcus aureus toxin is 2 to 4 hours, although it can be as soon as 30 minutes or up to 7 hours. In normal cases it takes 48 hours to recover. Common symptoms transmitted via food are nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhoea.

As ever, effective preventative measures are essential to ensure that your products remain safe for people to enjoy. Here is more information on our range of food safety courses.

Obesity crackdown and the importance of HACCP

HACCP obesity crisis

The chance of being seriously affected by Covid-19 increases with obesity or being overweight, according to experts. Studies have shown that 36% of adults in England are currently defined as overweight, whereas 28% were classified as obese.

Body fat contains high levels of an enzyme called ACE2 to which the coronavirus can attach itself, giving it access to cells. This can have a direct impact on blood, immunity, inflammation and especially respiratory function.

Obesity prevention measures
To raise awareness of these issues and attempt to tackle obesity, the Government this week announced a crackdown. This involves providing calorie information on menus for restaurants with over 250 staff. It also includes a proposed ban on bulk buy offers on fizzy drinks and foods with a high fat, sugar or salt (HFSS) content. Television advertisements for ‘junk food’ are to be banned before 9pm to discourage children from wanting highly calorific products

This initiative to reduce consumption of sugar, fat and salt is nothing new. We have been told that obesity costs the NHS in excess of £4.2 billion. Steps have already been taken by food manufacturers to reduce fat, salt and sugar in their products. For example, Pladis has previously reduced sugar by 9% and salt by 5% in its McVities Digestive biscuit. This was achieved over a period of time to ensure that there was no compromise on taste or texture.

Product reformulations
The reformulation of products is not something that can be achieved overnight. As well as the palatability factor, there is also the aspect of food safety to consider. Sodium (salt) and sugar are both food preservatives. They help to reduce the growth of pathogens and spoilage bacteria by reducing the water activity in foods. This is turn extends the shelf life of the products.

Fat in foods has a huge impact on flavour, so reducing the fat in, say, a yogurt, means that in order to make it as tasty, you need to substitute something else. This is often sugar or a sugar substitute.

Reduced sugar, fat or salt – increased food safety risk?
Of course, swapping out ingredients in the recipe for a popular product means that you will need to assess the food safety risks. Will the substituted ingredient perform as well to inhibit the growth of bacteria? What are the new critical control points and critical limits to ensure that the product is safe? How will the shelf life of the newly-formulated product be affected?

It’s worth remembering that the largest ever outbreak of food-borne Clostridium Botulinum in the UK, was caused by reducing the sugar content in a product. The hazelnut puree used in several brands of hazelnut yogurt had reduced sugar by substituting with saccharin. However, it had been under processed, allowing the bacterium to grow within the product.

HACCP knowledge is essential
It is imperative that HACCP plans are reviewed whenever any change takes place. This could be changes to ingredients, changes of equipment, or changes to process. Reviewing HACCP plans means that any potential food safety risk can be identified, and the appropriate preventive action taken.

Any product reformulation requires a new HACCP plan to be produced. Make sure that the relevant people in your company are trained in how to produce, verify and validate a HACCP plan. Or if it’s at least 3 years since your staff took their HACCP qualifications, a one-day HACCP Refresher course will keep them up-to-date.