Pubs are being asked look more carefully at the advice they give to customers with food allergies.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is concerned about a number of recent incidents in which customers were given potentially lethal advice by staff in various restaurants. Although packaged foods must include information on ingredients such as nuts, there are no similar regulations covering food made on the premises, such as sandwiches, salads or home made soups.
As a result, the FSA is consulting on draft voluntary guidelines that would require caterers to label all foods containing allergens that could cause illness or death.
Ben Bartlett, catering development manager at the Union Pub Company, said: "It's one of those things - you could put about ten different disclaimers next to some menu items, but of course it's something pubs need to take very seriously. We advise our licensee to include a general statement on the menu along the lines of 'some food may contain nuts or other allergens, please ask staff for more information if required.'
"Some suppliers, such as Brakes, are very good at providing all the information you need about a product." Where ingredients are assembled in the kitchen, "pubs need to be aware of what they are using, and be able to advise customers."
The FSA said this guidance would be "helpful" to enforcement bodies such as environmental health officers, but stressed it would not be legally enforceable. However, legislation has been considered and might follow if voluntary guidance proved ineffective.
Among the cases which the FSA to act:
- A milk allergic child who was persuaded to try a 'dairy free' ice cream at a family restaurant, and became ill because the main ingredient was skimmed milk
- A student who suffered a sever reaction to peanut protein in a chicken korma. Staff at the restaurant had been 'confused' by her request to know of ther were nuts in the dish
- A number of allergic reactions coronation chicken sandwiches - some recipes for the dish include nuts, others don't