The new regulations requiring pubs, restaurants and cafes to provide information about the allergen content of food came into force on 13 December 2014. However, a new survey commissioned by F&B technology expert Caternet has revealed that an alarming level of hotel, catering and hospitality managers are still concerned about their staff providing inaccurate or incorrect allergen information to customers leading to hefty fines and possibly serious consequences for the diner.
An increasing number of people in the UK are intolerant to allergens found in food. If you have an intolerance then you must avoid eating food containing the allergen that makes you ill. Allergens are not removed by cooking food and it is therefore essential that you avoid serving a customer food that may make them ill and potentially cause serious damage to the reputation of your business.
It’s not all bad news though as the new labelling requirements may also be a business driver. Many of those with food intolerances don’t currently eat out in restaurants fearing a lack of correct information and choice of dishes. If you have a well labelled menu with plenty of choice for those who have to avoid, say gluten then you may be able to attract more diners as a result.
What information do you need to provide?
The Food Information Regulations 2014 require businesses who supply pre-packed and non pre-packed food (such as restaurants and cafes) to declare 14 major allergens in the food they supply.
The list of allergens is as follows:
- Cereals containing gluten;
- Soya Bean
- Milk (including lactose)
- Sesame Seeds
- Lupin Flour
This means that you should contact your suppliers to ascertain the contents of all ingredients used in the food served on your premises. You will also need to be careful about storage and labelling of ingredients in your kitchens.
Staff Training is crucial
The obligation is on you as operator to give the relevant information to customers. Staff need to be fully trained in the new obligations and in how to answer questions on the allergens contained in the food served. When you take on new restaurant staff, you must ensure that they are trained, however temporary their contracts, to ensure that they are up to speed on allergens and your policy on how to deal with enquiries from day one. Information on food contents must be readily available to staff and they must know where to locate it. The Food Standards Agency website contains useful guidance including a chef’s recipe sheet and an allergen matrix which can be completed and printed off so that staff can easily check the contents of dishes on the menu. See: http://www.food.gov.uk/business-industry/allergy-guide/allergen-resources
How is the information to be provided to the customer?
The information can be supplied on the menu rather like vegetarian options, a series of symbols could be used to denote dishes containing, say, gluten. The information could also be given on a chalk board or ticket.
Information does not have to be written it can also be provided orally by staff or via other formats e.g. website. If allergen information is only available orally then you must put up a notice informing customers that the information is available from staff. It might be appropriate to include a note to this effect on the menu or specials board rather than print the allergen content of every dish on every menu. You will need to be careful if the information is only given orally as it is important that it is 100% accurate. Questions of proof are always harder when no written evidence is available. The issue of providing information becomes trickier when dishes change regularly.
Draught Beer and wine by the glass
Pubs, restaurants and bars must also make customers aware that allergy information is available, upon request, about the draught beer they serve and about any other drinks served by the glass, e.g. wine. The BBPA suggests having a sign at the bar. Allergen information could be written on the pump clip so that staff are clear on allergen content or on the wine menu. See the BBPA checklist for further guidance: http://www.beerandpub.com/industry-briefings/bbpa-licensee-checklist-allergens
Practical advice for managers:
- Collect Information – It is important to have all the allergen information that you need on the foods that you serve; you may need to contact suppliers to find out the necessary information.
- Menu and website changes – You should consider the best way for your business to give customers the required information. This may depend on how frequently your menu changes. If you have a daily special then the chalk board might be the best place. If you have a long term standard menu then the menu can probably be printed with the necessary facts on it. If information is contained on a website then make sure this is kept up to date as the menu changes. If information is to be provided orally then you must ensure that staff have access to the correct information.
- Staff Training – It is crucial that staff know about the new obligations, that they are trained to give advice to customers and that they understand the importance of giving accurate information and the correct order to each individual diner.
What are the consequences of failing to comply?
The maximum financial penalty for failing to give the correct allergen information required by the Regulations is £5,000. However, the real penalty must be in the fact that if a diner suffers an allergic reaction or even death as a result of inaccurate allergen information then the damage to the reputation of your premises and potentially group of outlets could be irrevocable.
The Food Standards Agency has produced allergen guidance for non pre-packed foods this can be found at: http://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/multimedia/pdfs/publication/loosefoodsleaflet.pdf
The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.