FSA to clarify diet guidelines

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food allergy, Allergy, Asthma

Pub chefs and licensees could soon have clearer guidance to help them deal with customers' food allergies and special diets.The number of people...

Pub chefs and licensees could soon have clearer guidance to help them deal with customers' food allergies and special diets.

The number of people suffering from life-threatening allergies is growing, but there is no accepted guidance to help licensees avoid potential legal claims.

At a meeting, to be held by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) later this month, caterers will join other interested parties to discuss how to improve the amount of food allergy information in catering outlets.

Caterers, manufacturers, consumer groups, retailers and enforcement agencies will meet with the FSA to talk about research conducted by the British Nutrition Foundation late last year.

The research discovered shocking differences between practices in a variety of catering outlets including pubs, bars and restaurants.

It also revealed that licensees and chefs are confused about what information they are obliged to include on their menus, blackboards and to tell their staff.

The report found that 60 per cent of outlets identified when nuts were used in a dish.

But only half of the outlets asked used signs and labels to tell customers about ingredients. And 30 per cent failed to update staff when nuts or other allergens had been added to a dish.

Awareness of potentially-fatal food allergies is growing and many pubs were found to be good at informing their customers about certain ingredients.

But there was also found to be confusion over terms such as vegetarian, vegan and healthy.

The report made several recommendations which will be discussed at the FSA's meeting on February 21, including that all interested parties work together to make life easier for caterers and allergy sufferers.

Accepted definitions of terms such as "free from", "may contain" and other well-used menu descriptions should also be put into place, according to the report.

How best to take the report's recommendations forward will be discussed at the meeting and any decisions made will be passed to caterers by the FSA.

It is hoped the meeting will end confusion for licensees, chefs and food allergy sufferers.

The report discovered:

60 per cent of caterers identify when nuts are used in dishes26 per cent identify other allergens50 per cent rely on staff to inform customers about potential allergens in dishes30 per cent do not inform staff about allergens contained in dishes or update them if nuts are added to a recipe75 per cent of caterers that use nuts do not have special procedures in place to prevent cross-contamination

The report recommended:

  • Interested parties work together to draw up a definitive list of allergens such as nuts and seeds, milk, soya and seafood
  • A definition of terms such as "free from", "suitable for" and "may contain" is agreed
  • Other terms such as "vegetarian", "vegan" and "low-fat" also need agreed definitions
  • Consider a recommended minimum for staff training on allergies including how to communicate the correct information, what to do in an emergency and the importance of allergy sufferers also being proactive
  • Consider the possibility of an allergy awareness scheme along the lines of the regional Heartbeat Award scheme that rewards pubs with healthy options on the menu and no-smoking areas

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