If you know anyone with a food allergy or intolerance you'll understand that they have to be very careful about what they eat. We've all become used to seeing allergy information on food packaging, even if some of the "made in a factory which once made products containing nuts" type statements are not particularly helpful. This information means that people sensitive to certain foods can make informed choices about what they buy and eat.
We spend some time discussing allergens on my food safety courses, but until now the labelling rules have only really applied to pre-packed food. All caterers have had to do is provide honest information to customers if asked, and ideally to store common allergens (such as nut products) in sealed, separate containers to avoid cross contamination.
This all changed on 13 December 2014...
The new EU Food Information For Consumers Regulation, which was published in October 2011, came into force on that date. For the first time suppliers of non pre-packed food, including caterers, will have to provide allergen information to their customers as a matter of course.
Before you panic, this doesn't mean you'll have to make major changes and it's not going to cost you anything (other than a bit of your time). Information can be provided verbally by a member of staff, or made available to the customer in written format - either on your menu if it remains pretty static, or a loose leaf file, on a noticeboard, or any combination that suits your business.
Now I appreciate that to some this might sound like yet another piece of health-and-safety-gone-mad-EU-red-tape to entangle your business, but actually the changes will simplify food labelling across the whole industry and provide simple, consistent messages to those with sensitivities to particular foods. In the UK at least 10 people die every year from food allergies, with a further 1,500 asthma deaths which in some cases have been triggered by a food allergy. Each year the number of allergy sufferers increases by 5%, and it's estimated that by 2015 50% of Europeans will suffer from some sort of allergy (including hay fever).
Showing that you're sensitive to your customers' needs and professional enough to care about their health must surely be as good for your business as a 5* food safety rating sticker in your window, right?
The Food Standards Agency will be updating and producing guidance to businesses over the next 12 months, so if you haven't already done so sign up for their email updates and keep an eye on their website www.food.gov.uk.
One thing I'd definitely recommend is that you have a look at the FSA's FREE online allergy training - why not get your staff to complete the module and keep a record in your Safer Food Better Business file to get one step ahead of the game. If everyone has a better understanding of the issues it will be so much easier for you to make the simple changes you need to comply with the new regulations.
I've been helping clients prepare for the changes, and my new allergen management courses are now available, so feel free to get in touch if you have any comments or questions.
I've been working in hospitality and training one way or another for over 25 years. I love helping small hospitality businesses to develop. Follow me and my continuing training adventures here...