From Saturday 13th December new allergy regulations for restaurants and food traders will be rolled out across the UK. From this weekend all sellers of food will be responsible for clearly communicating any use of the 14 main allergens in any dish or drink, according to EU regulations.
The new rules mean that everyone involved in the food industry will need to understand which foods cause allergies, whether they are present in any of their dishes and how to advise their customers. According to statistics, around two percent of the UK population suffer from a food allergy, while some 20 per cent believe that they have a food allergy of some kind.
It has been estimated that the cost of implementing and maintaining the regulations could be around £200m per annum. Those reported to face the greatest challenges are small-scale food operations such as pop-up restaurants and those who change their menu frequently.
We asked restaurateurs and food traders for their thoughts on the new legislation:
‘Fortunately, the change in legislation hasn’t caused us any problems – we already have a food facts book in place for all of the items of our menu dish so our staff can tell customers what’s in them, even our specials. We also have menu sheets available for those on gluten-free, dairy-free etc. diets, which the team are briefed on so they can give a quick response to any customer queries. It’s all about having a procedure in place – we ensure our staff are trained and the kitchen sticks to recipes and doesn’t freestyle.’
Richard Holmes, co-owner of Pint Shop
‘A lot of businesses have complained that the new EU regulations are a lot of extra work and too complex, but good businesses should already be doing it,” he says. “While we agree with many independents that an entire menu littered with allergen information is unworkable, it’s not difficult to put all this information into a spreadsheet for customers to look at and for staff to learn. In my mind, it’s all part of good customer service.”
“It also makes good business sense. Ultimately, people with allergies can be a ‘table decider’ and if they are part of a large party of people, none of them will want to dine with you if they feel one of them cannot eat safely.’
Adrian Fusco, director of Fusco’s of Whitby
‘Having worked in this business for over thirty years I would say that consumers should be given truths as well as facts. There has been an upsurge in, for example, people claiming a wheat allergy. However what many of these allergy sufferers may be truly affected by is not wheat but the way commercial bread is made. Most commercially made bread in the UK is made by the ADD process – activated dough development, created in 1961 by the British Baking Research Association. This produces light bread, fast and at low cost. Whilst only four items are needed to make bread (flour, water, salt, yeast), this process uses over a dozen including bleach, enzymes and emulsifiers. Enzymes can be allergens but do you see them listed on a commercial loaf of bread today and will they be listed tomorrow? If the new legislation means that some loaves of commercial bread must be labelled “made with rennet derived from a calves stomach” then we are going in the right direction. If however the new legislation means we have to tell people eating a scallop that it may upset them if they have a shellfish allergy then whoever wrote the legislation should be made to walk a plank at the end of which is a sign: “deep water ahead: might contain sharks to which you might have an allergy”’.
Mark Slaney, GM of The Horseshoe Restaurant with Rooms
For more information on the changes and food allergies visit www.bha.org.uk for the guidance toolkit.