Dish up exactly what you promise

Related tags Bii annual lunch Organic food License

Celebrity chef Kevin Woodford's championing of organic and local produce at the recent BII annual lunch had me nodding in approval, but it also...

Celebrity chef Kevin Woodford's championing of organic and local produce at the recent BII annual lunch had me nodding in approval, but it also reminded me of the pitfalls of advertising and promotion.

In particular, he said that even adding a few organic ingredients to a dish made it better. But does that make the dish in question "organic" on the menu? There's the problem.

A couple of recent cases have come to my attention where licensees have been in trouble with trading standards officers and even the courts for mis-describing the food they offer.

Certainly, the term "organic" must be used with care: at every level of the food chain there have been examples of blatant fraud perpetrated on the public as a result of inaccurate descriptions, some of them admittedly by unscrupulous food producers, but many by those who are preparing the meals.

The benefits of organic produce have been widely debated, but it is clear that the public is influenced by the term and may make a choice based on the information they get.

Trading standards laws are strict and local authority officers vigilant: they do not need a customer complaint to check whether what you say on the menu or A-board is accurate.

Interestingly, new regulations on unfair commercial practices come into effect next week. They change and amplify the Trade Descriptions Act itself, so that a number of inaccurate or misleading methods of promotion or selling will be specifically against the law and could lead to prosecution. All the more reason for the holder of the licence to check carefully anything being promoted or written about the pub, and to remind staff how careful they need to be to ensure accuracy.

After all, the prosecution, if it comes, will not be of the chef or the sign writer, but the person or company operating the premises, on the grounds that they have a duty to their customers not to issue misleading descriptions of food or drink.

In order to escape liability, the licensee would have to show a fair degree of diligence in ensuring that misleading statements were not put out — in the final analysis, it is his responsibility.

In particular, special claims for food or drink should trigger a red alert; closely question the chef in order to verify what is being claimed, to avoid legal repercussions.

The cost of getting it wrong could be high, both in penalties and bad publicity.

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