Does Your Menu Accommodate Vulnerable Persons?

These menu considerations help ensure your food business is taking all practical steps to protect vulnerable groups from food safety risks.
January 4, 2022

Food businesses are responsible for putting processes in place to ensure that the food they produce, sell or serve is safe to eat. This is especially important for businesses and community organisations that provide food to vulnerable persons, as they are more likely to experience severe symptoms and reactions due to a food-borne illness. These vulnerable persons, also known as “high-risk groups,” include the elderly, individuals with weakened immune systems, children under five, pregnant women and unborn children.

For facilities or businesses that process or serve food to vulnerable groups, particular attention to menu accommodations are integral to help ensure food safety. Even retail or hospitality venues that aren’t exclusively serving vulnerable persons need to be prepared with proper information and safe food handling practices to help protect high-risk groups who could shop or dine at their establishment.

Here are a few menu considerations that food businesses can implement to protect vulnerable persons from food-borne illnesses.

Implement control measures for high-risk foods

High-risk foods, also known as potentially hazardous foods, are foods that provide ideal conditions for dangerous bacteria and pathogens that can cause food poisoning to live and multiply. High-risk foods include meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy.

Although high-risk foods are hazardous for everyone, they are even more dangerous for vulnerable groups, as they are less able to fight off the effects of food poisoning. Vulnerable persons are also more likely to develop serious complications from these infections, such as pneumonia, kidney failure and even death.

This is why special care must be taken when handling high-risk foods, especially for food businesses that service vulnerable persons. All ingredients should only be sourced from reputable and approved suppliers. Food Handlers must take extra precautions when working with hazardous foods to minimise risks, such as:

  • properly thawing frozen hazardous foods in the refrigerator instead of at room temperature
  • preventing cross-contamination and preparing any uncooked meat on a non-porous cutting board
  • ensuring food is cooked to safe cooking temperatures
  • washing hands thoroughly before and after handling different food types

Remove these hazardous foods from your menu

If your business serves food to vulnerable persons, such as in acute care hospitals or aged care facilities, remove hazardous foods that are known for causing food poisoning from the menu, such as:

  • shellfish
  • raw fish
  • soft cheese
  • undercooked meat like beef tartare
  • undercooked eggs
  • unpasteurized milk and dairy products

Practise allergen management

Food allergies are becoming more common in the country, with Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia reporting that two percent of adults and four to eight percent of children under five are affected by food allergens. Allergies can differ in severity, and even just microscopic amounts of a food allergen can result in a life-threatening reaction. All food businesses must practise effective allergen management to protect their customers from an allergic reaction.

Businesses and facilities that service vulnerable persons must prioritise preventive measures for cross-contamination and controls to manage food allergies, particularly for food served to young children who have a higher risk of dying from a severe allergic reaction.

List allergens for all dishes on your menus, and ensure any take-away items have all ingredients properly labelled. Train staff to know the most common allergens in Australia, as well as the ingredients in all dishes that the food business serves. They should be ready to provide this information when asked. It’s good practice to ask customers if they have any allergies or dietary restrictions when taking their order.

An allergen management checklist is a great resource to help manage food allergies and should be completed at regular intervals and whenever there is a change in the menu.

Understand modified diet requirements

Vulnerable persons may require modified diets that are recommended by a clinician to help manage medical conditions, improve health or increase their quality of life. For example, those with high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease or heart disease may be recommended a low- or no-sodium diet.

Businesses that service vulnerable groups should be made aware of these modified diet requirements and all workers in a food business should know, or be able to find, the ingredient information for their dishes in case a person asks whether a certain dish can accommodate their diet requirements.

Know the food safety laws in your area

Community organisations and businesses that serve high-risk groups should also know the food legislation requirements that affect their business. Under Standard 3.3.1 of the Food Standards Code, organisations that process or serve food to vulnerable persons, including (but not limited to) aged care facilities, acute care hospitals, child care centres, psychiatric hospitals and hospices are required to implement a documented and audited Food Safety Program.

A robust Food Safety Program helps to protect your business from serious food safety incidents by determining, implementing and managing procedures and protocols that ensure only food that is safe for consumption is served to vulnerable people.

Additional laws and regulations may be required depending on your state or territory. Be sure to check with your local health authority to confirm the requirements for serving vulnerable groups in your area.

The Australian Institute of Food Safety (AIFS) is dedicated to helping food businesses protect their customers from food safety risks and ultimately ensure their business is a successful one. Our Guide to Building a Food Safety Program provides advice for creating and implementing a comprehensive Food Safety Program, and our Guide to Food Service to Vulnerable Persons gives even more tips for ensuring food produced and served to high-risk groups is safe to eat.