Allergen regulation: Time’s up

The new allergen legislation comes into force tomorrow

The much-anticipated EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation came into force on 13 December. BigHospitality looks at what is changing, and the impact of the new law on the industry.

The law

Basically expanding a law that’s been applied for pre-packed food since 2002 to the foodservice sector as a whole, the regulation requires operators to identify, record and clearly communicate the presence of 14 allergens in any dish or drink.

The allergens included in the list are:

  • Cereals containing gluten such as wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt or khorasan
  • Crustaceans, for example prawns, crabs, lobster, crayfish
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Soybeans
  • Milk (including lactose)
  • Nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachio nuts, macadamia (or Queensland) nuts
  • Celery (including celeriac)
  • Mustard
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sulphur dioxide (more than 10mg/kg or 10mg/L)
  • Lupin
  • Molluscs for example clams, mussels, whelks, oysters, snails and squid

In terms of display, several options are available: operators can either add allergen information under each menu item; print it on sandwich nutritional information stickers, or keep it in a folder near the till for counter restaurants.

Additionally all, staff must be able to answer any allergen question from diners, or point them to an ‘allergen expert’ on their team.

Environmental health officers and Trading Standards officers will be responsible for enforcement.

Preparing

In order to comply, everyone from food suppliers to chefs and waiting staff need to be trained, which represents significant costs for hospitality businesses. In fact, the British Hospitality Association (BHA) estimates this cost at around £200m a year.

  • Back in May, The Forum of Private Business suggested the following key steps to prepare:
    Monitoring all ingredients used in their food, and categorise them based on allergens
  • Ensuring that their suppliers notify them of any allergy changes
  • Reviewing each menu item to ensure that all allergens are described
  • Storing allergen-containing ingredients away from non-allergen-containing ingredients
  • Minimising the risk of cross contamination by using separate areas for non-allergen containing dishes
  • Ensuring all staff are allergen aware.

But just a few days ago, a new survey revealed half of operators were still uncertain about how to cope with the new regulation in the long run.

“Make no mistake, the Food Allergens Regulation will be challenging and cumbersome to implement, especially for small businesses and it is fraught with practical difficulties. But, if it serves the customer, then it serves the industry too," said Jackie Grech, legal and policy director of the BHA’s Restaurant Association.

Operator reactions

It is clear there is huge demand from consumers for more options catering for allergies and intolerances. A Horizons survey from June showed one in 10 consumers sought vegetarian options on menus while a similar number looked for calorie information, 9 per cent wanted low- or reduced-fat dishes and 4 per cent were looking for gluten-free dishes.

Women were more engaged on these issues than men, with 37 per cent citing at least one healthy or lifestyle factor that was important to them when they chose where to eat out.

Coeliac UK has welcomed the changes for providing more clarity on menus for people with coeliac disease, adding that businesses would also benefit financially.

“Catering businesses will also benefit significantly as research shows people with coeliac disease - and the family and friends they eat out with - are worth a potential £100m a year to venues willing to provide dishes labelled gluten-free. For businesses that have already taken up this option the impact on their bottom line is overwhelmingly positive,” said Sarah Sleet, chief executive of Coeliac UK.

But on the operator side, reactions are mixed. A story we wrote last May got the following comment asking diners and authorities for more tolerance during the transition process.

We asked operators on Twitter is they were ready, and again, reactions were mixed, with some saying the timing – right before Christmas – could have been better.

 


Resources

If you don’t feel quite ready yet and need help to comply, you can check out the guidance published by the Food Standards Agency, as well as the BHA’s toolkit.

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