On December 13th the new law came in which states that all food and drink providers must comply with the EU Food Information for Customers. (FIR Regs 1169/2011). So what does that mean? In summary, ‘allergy’ customers can now arrive at ‘a place that serves food’ and find/be presented with details of the Top 14 allergens present in foods on the menu. This can be presented on a chalkboard, on the menu itself, in an information pack or pinned to a wall. The ‘food serving establishment’ can no longer state that all foods could contain allergens. Oral statements must be backed up in writing. Environmental Health Officers will be enforcing the regulations and failure to comply will result in large fines.
This law does not mean that restaurateurs, cafe’s, school canteens etc are obliged to provide ‘free from’ foods – they just need to give you the information you need to make the decision about what is safe for you to eat on their menu. If they do decide to venture into broadening their menus with some ‘allergy friendly’ dishes that is a happy side effect, but the main reason behind this law was to protect those suffering from life threatening allergies. Every year 10 lives are lost from food allergy and over 4,500 are admitted to hospital as a result of a severe allergic reaction. It is hoped that these new regulations will help prevent such tragic loss of life.
The Food Standards agency website has some great information and graphics which communicate all of this information beautifully. http://www.food.gov.uk/news-updates/news/2014/13305/new-food-allergen-rules-for-consumers
They have lots of information for consumers and information for those in the food business. There is also useful information on what the 14 allergens are and this leaflet http://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/multimedia/pdfs/publication/allergy-leaflet.pdf has some very useful information for consumers, clearly explaining the new labelling you can expect to see on ‘grab and go’ foods as well.
So has it made a difference? We haven’t been out much since the new law came in, but we did go to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park on Sunday and found a stall that was compliant. It was the German sausage stall beside the ice rink. I had a hunch that would be our best bet. German bratwurst sausages, almost always tend to be gluten free. The Germans are fanatical about their sausage ingredients and only use meat, herbs and spices – no junk cereal fillers and certainly no dried milk powder.
I approached the counter with optimism – hoping to order Zac a nice sausage without the bun, but with a side order of ‘safe’ fries. The people manning the stall were German and very busy, so they had taken the very sensible – and law compliant step of laminating a card, listing all the items on their menu and putting it in a very visible spot. They had graphics showing the 14 allergens, useful in a multilingual environment, and having tick boxes so you could see what items included allergens, e.g. sulphites in the mulled wine, mustard seed in the mustard(obviously), gluten in the bread, no gluten in the sausages none in the fries either.
So without having to bother the staff, or queue for ages and then find out there was nothing he could eat, I was able to make an informed decision within seconds. Just an A4 sheet, laminated and stuck to a bar. How simple is that? Kind of makes a mockery of all those who have been entering into the public debate on the new laws. Many in the food industry have featured in the media, complaining that the regs will be detrimental to their business. Surely, this proves the opposite.
Obviously, they do need to train their staff adequately and consider their menus in order to be truly compliant, but once it is done surely they must see that this is an opportunity to win custom? We didn’t see one other place at Winter Wonderland who was doing this and therefore those clever folks at the German food stall got our business. All of the food at Winter Wonderland is hideously expensive and this stall was no different. £5 a sausage, £4 fries, similar for a glass of mulled wine and beer etc. We spent £30 at this stall – and not one penny anywhere else. We’re pretty sure many other ‘troublesome’ allergy families will have done the same. So well done to our German friends. You have realised the benefit of compliance and are now reaping the financial rewards.