Menu Considerations to Help Accommodate Vulnerable Persons

Protect vulnerable persons from food safety risks by implementing these menu considerations in your food business.
Menu Considerations to Help Accommodate Vulnerable Persons
January 11, 2022

It’s a food business’s responsibility to ensure that the food they produce, sell or serve is safe for consumption — and this is especially true for businesses and community organizations that service vulnerable persons. This is because vulnerable groups, also known as “high-risk” groups, are more susceptible to severe and even life-threatening symptoms after contracting a food-borne illness.

For businesses or facilities that process or serve food to vulnerable groups, which include children under five, the elderly, people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women, menu considerations are crucial in ensuring food safety. For food businesses that don’t exclusively serve high-risk groups, it’s still important to have the proper food safety information and practice safe food handling to help protect vulnerable persons who could shop or dine at their establishment.

Implement these practical menu considerations in your organization to help prevent vulnerable groups from contracting a food-borne illness.

Create control measures for potentially hazardous foods

Potentially hazardous foods, also known as high-risk 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. To minimize risks when working with hazardous foods, Food Handlers must take extra precautions, 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

Take these high-risk foods off your menu

Aged care facilities, acute care hospitals and other businesses that service vulnerable persons should take these hazardous foods off their menu as they are commonly known to cause food poisoning:

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

Prioritize allergen management

Over 2.6 million Canadians, including 500,000 children, live with food allergies. 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 practice effective allergen management to protect their customers from an allergic reactions.

Businesses and facilities that service vulnerable persons must prioritize 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 pre-packaged items have all ingredients properly labelled. Train staff to know the most common food allergies in Canada, 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 orders.

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.

Follow 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 the 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.

Understand and follow food safety laws in your area

Community organizations and businesses that serve high-risk groups should also know the food legislation requirements that affect their business. Food businesses in Canada 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 food safety laws and regulations vary based on province, territory and locale. Confirm the requirements for serving vulnerable groups in your area by contacting your local health authority.

The Canadian Institute of Food Safety (CIFS) provides comprehensive training and resources that help food businesses protect their customers from food safety risks. Use the CIFS Guide to Building a Food Safety Plan to create and implement a Food Safety Program, and the CIFS Guide to Food Service to Vulnerable Persons to learn even more tips for ensuring food produced and served to vulnerable groups is safe to eat.

Frequently Asked Questions

What specific dietary restrictions should be considered when designing menus for facilities that serve vulnerable persons, and how can these be effectively communicated to staff and customers?

When designing menus for facilities serving vulnerable persons, it's crucial to consider specific dietary restrictions such as low-sodium for those with hypertension, gluten-free options for those with celiac disease and easy-to-chew or pureed foods for individuals with swallowing difficulties.

Effective communication of these restrictions can be achieved through detailed menu descriptions, staff training programs that emphasize the importance of understanding and conveying dietary information and clear signage or labels on menus. This ensures that both staff and customers are well-informed about the options available.

How can food businesses ensure they are regularly updated on the latest food safety practices and regulations regarding vulnerable people?

Food businesses can ensure they are regularly updated on the latest food safety practices and regulations concerning vulnerable populations by subscribing to updates from food safety regulators, participating in industry seminars and workshops, and maintaining memberships with professional organizations dedicated to food safety.

Additionally, regularly scheduled training sessions for staff can help keep everyone informed of current standards and practices. These steps will help ensure compliance and enhance the safety of food prepared for vulnerable groups.

What are some recommended strategies for food businesses to manage and minimize the risks associated with cross-contamination, particularly for allergens that affect vulnerable individuals?

To manage and minimize the risks associated with cross-contamination, particularly for allergens, food businesses can implement several strategies. These include designating specific areas and equipment for preparing allergen-free foods, using colour-coded utensils and cutting boards, conducting regular staff training on allergen management, and implementing strict cleaning protocols to avoid residue transfer.

In addition, clearly labelling ingredients on menus and having detailed communication between kitchen staff and customers about allergen concerns can greatly reduce the risk of cross-contamination.