Report: Restaurant staff not taking allergy requests seriously enough

Report: Restaurant staff not taking allergy requests seriously enough

Restaurant owners are being urged to do more to educate their staff on the subject of food allergens after a survey of diners with allergies found that a quarter had suffered a reaction when eating out since allergen legislation was introduced in 2014. 

While the majority of diners with allergies (83 per cent) said they thought restaurants, pubs and other food outlets were making it easier for them to eat out by marking out allergens on menus and staff checking food information with the kitchen, there were still concerns that some staff weren't taking allergy requests seriously enough. 

According to results of the survey, carried out by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Allergy UK ahead of Allergy Awareness Week, 69 per cent of diners with allergies said they'd experienced restaurant staff not understanding the severity of an allergy while 68 per cent said front-of-house staff had a lack of knowledge of what was on the menu or in the food - confusing eggs with dairy, or assuming that the customer was asking for gluten-free rather than avoiding lupin for example.

Over half of allergic consumers (56 per cent) also said they have been made to feel like an inconvenience due to their allergy, while it was more serious for 19 per cent of those suffering a reaction when eating out after they were hospitalised.  

Progress

Dr Chun-Han Chan, food allergy expert at the FSA, said that while 58 per cent of diners with allergies said their overall experience of eating out had improved and 52 per cent were more confident about it, there were still improvements to be made.

“It’s been more than a year since the introduction of this legislation and we’re pleased to see real progress in how food businesses provide information on allergens to their customers,"he said. "In general, the situation is improving for the two million food allergic consumers in the UK, and greater numbers have the confidence to eat out. 

“However, our survey has found that this isn’t true for everyone, and that many establishments aren’t yet providing the information that their customers need. The fact that allergic consumers are noticing gaps in the knowledge of people serving them, makes it evident that more needs to be done by food businesses to educate their staff on allergens.

"The number of people suffering from food allergies and intolerances has increased in the last decade, so it’s clear that it is not something businesses can ignore. Allergies can be fatal, and this is why it is vital food businesses give their customers information they can trust.”

The EU Food Information for Consumers (FIC) legislation came into force in December 2014, and means that food businesses have to make information on 14 allergens available to consumers. This ranges from the most common allergens, such as peanuts and gluten, to less well known triggers for allergic reactions such as mustard and celery. Around 2 million people in the UK suffer from allergies, including 2 per cent of adults and 8 per cent of children.

Food business owners, including chef Cyrus Todiwala, talk about how they have dealt with the allergen legislation changes here in this video. 

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