National Allergy Strategy launches food allergy training for hospital staff
The National Allergy Strategy has launched free national food allergy e-training for food service staff working in hospitals. The potentially life-saving online food allergy training course — All about Allergens for Hospitals — is designed for hospital staff working in kitchens and on wards, and is said to be the first nationally standardised training for food allergen management for food service in Australian hospitals.
Funded by the Australian Government Department of Health, the course offering is a partnership between the National Allergy Strategy, the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) and Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia (A&AA).
“The National Allergy Strategy is proud to launch this free training that increases food safety and has the potential to save lives,” said Maria Said, A&AA CEO and Co-Chair of the National Allergy Strategy.
“People understandably assume that their food allergies are going to be managed well in a hospital environment because they see hospitals as a safe place. Currently, many hospitals do not have adequate practices in place and this is concerning.
“Until the death of 13-year-old Louis Tate in 2015, only a few hospitals in the whole of Australia had a food allergy policy. Tragically, Louis’s death was preventable and we know that even since losing him there have been other incidents in hospitals that have been near misses.
“This new training aims to improve the understanding of both food preparation staff and hospital ward staff about the seriousness of food allergy, and to improve food safety, prevent allergic reactions and ultimately save lives,” continued Said.
Tate suffered severe anaphylaxis after he ate a spoonful of the breakfast he was served. This was despite the fact that his mother had communicated his food allergies multiple times. His family want hospitals to have robust policies and processes in place for providing appropriate foods to patients with food allergies.
All about Allergens for Hospitals training is aimed at all staff involved in the food service chain in a hospital. This includes kitchen managers, kitchen staff, ward managers, dietitians, nurses and other ward staff. They all play an important role in keeping patients with a food allergy safe when they are in hospital. The training provides practical information and there are free downloadable templates and resources available from the Food Allergy Training website.
Paediatric clinical immunology/allergy specialist and Co-Chair of the National Allergy Strategy Dr Preeti Joshi said, “Patients with food allergy are more vulnerable when they are in hospital, particularly for unexpected stays. They rely on hospital staff to provide them with safe meals, but unfortunately many people report being served meals containing the foods they are allergic to, despite telling multiple hospital staff about their food allergy.
“That is why it is so important that staff providing food in hospitals, like any other food service provider, understand that a patient can have a life-threatening allergic reaction to a tiny amount of the food they are allergic to.”
Common causes of food-related allergic reactions in hospitals include:
- Staff not understanding the seriousness of food allergy.
- Information about a patient’s food allergy not being communicated effectively to food preparation staff.
- Not having adequate alerts in place that let hospital staff know that a particular patient has a food allergy.
- Poor food handling and cleaning practices in the kitchen that result in allergens ending up in meals that should not contain them.
- Poor storage and labelling systems in the kitchen resulting in ingredient mix-ups and confusion.
- Food preparation staff not following standard recipes or adding or substituting ingredients when they aren’t supposed to.
- Meals for patients with food allergy being mixed up or contaminated with ordinary meals.
- Patients being given a food they are allergic to by mistake.
- Staff being unable to provide accurate information about the ingredients of the meal or guessing about the ingredients and getting it wrong.
- Nursing staff not matching the patient’s name on the wristband to the name on the meal tray before putting the tray in the room.
- Staff not checking if the patient has a food allergy before giving food from the tea trolley or ward pantry.
- Using the same tongs for biscuits/cakes/fruit on tea trolleys.
- Volunteers giving food, eg, Easter chocolate, to children.
Senior allergy dietitian Ingrid Roche has many years of experience working in hospital food service. She leads the National Allergy Strategy working group and has been heavily involved in developing the hospital training.
“We know hospital staff are incredibly busy, so we have developed four specific versions of the training relevant to the different staff working in the kitchen and on the ward,” Roche said.
“The kitchen versions focus on how to safely prepare meals for patients with food allergy, reading labels on food products, and how to correctly store and handle ingredients. The ward versions focus on documenting patient allergies, identifying patients, communicating their food allergy to the kitchen, and having processes in place that ensure the right meal, fluid or snack goes to the right patient.”
The National Allergy Strategy is also commencing a food allergy awareness campaign through social media, aimed at communicating the shared responsibility when it comes to food allergen management in food service generally.
“What we want to do is encourage a sense of shared responsibility between people with food allergies, the community, health professionals and food service providers when it comes to preventing food-related allergic reactions in hospital or any environment where food is served,” Said concluded.
All about Allergens for Hospitals training is available at www.foodallergytraining.org.au.
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