Worried about the rules concerning food allergen labelling changing next year?
Here are 5 key things caterers need to know:
1. Firstly, why is this important?
For many allergy sufferers – around 2m in the UK (and growing) according to the Food Standards Agency - eating out can be massively stressful; they have to research venues and basically plan ahead. Many still think that caterers are reluctant to serve people with food allergies. However, in October I recently attended a conference on food allergies and heard that a recent survey carried out by the Food Allergy Training Consultancy found that 97% of people would visit an establishment if they stated on menus which dishes were appropriate for their allergy.
Free marketing - the same amount of people also said they would visit a venue which displayed allergy friendly logos, and if they’ve had a good experience, these are the type of people who will really shout about it on facebook and Twitter – and this could be zero-cost publicity for your business.
The importance of getting this right for catering businesses is magnified as allergy sufferers are often the people who determine which venue parties of friends or family celebrating special occasions or Sunday lunch choose to visit. One historic problem some caterers have had is that have dismissed people with allergies as faddish or fussy eaters. It doesn’t matter – these people have to be taken seriously.
2. What’s happening in 2014?
Current food labelling laws for the foodservice industry will change from December 2014, meaning all operators or suppliers offering food will need to provide allergy information about their menus.
The legislation means that specific food allergens listed within the EU regulation FIR 1169/2011, including peanuts and gluten, must be highlighted.
This means the hospitality and leisure industries will no longer be able to simply state ‘they do not know if an allergenic food ingredient has been used’, but instead will be required provide clear information about the food allergens contained in their menu items.
Allergens will need to be highlighted on menus, packaging, and displays. Verbal information can be provided by the staff; however, backup written confirmation of the details will be required and can be requested by customers at any time.
3. What are the allergens involved?
The 14 allergens that food businesses and venues will need to declare to customers are:
1. Gluten containing cereals
7. Nuts (such as walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds etc.)
14. Sulphur dioxide (used as a preservative in some dried fruit)
4. What can you do?
This sounds quite daunting; especially for independent outlets, but many businesses have procedures in place and some quite small adjustments will be enough as long as your staff know the allergies they are catering for. The truth is it’s not that scary a proposition. You don’t have to rejig your entire menu to make everything allergy-friendly. If you offer just a handful of items on a menu that exclude some of the 14 allergens then you can market that successfully. Then preparing the ingredients and preventing cross-contamination is just an extension of the food preparation process you should already have in place.
5. Is it worth it?
The argument that the one person in a group of 10 with an allergy decides where the other nine are eating is very strong so there is potentially a decent return on any investment. As the number of customers with dietary requirements grows, the business that doesn’t cater for those requirements could see a downturn in trade and this is partly being driven by allergy-friendly review websites. The Anaphylaxis Campaign has developed a review directory for members to share eating out experiences called ‘Tried and Trusted’. Members input reviews of the best – and worst – restaurant, pubs and hotels with regards to their allergy understanding. You’ve only got to think of Trip Advisor to realise these review sites can be very influential indeed.