Allergies affect milllions of people in the UK. And it is a wellestablished fact that more and more people are developing intolerance to certain foods.
But there's often confusion between allergy and intolerance and, though neither is very pleasant, they are dramatically different.
You'll quickly become aware of an allergy to something you've eaten - it can take less than an hour for an allergic reaction to take hold.
On the other hand, food intolerance is not so quick to reveal itself. In fact, it can take days to make itself known.
And few of us would ever think that the cause of the discomfort could be something eaten a few days ago. As a result food intolerance is believed to affect up to 45 per cent of the population at some time or other.
Faced with what could prove damaging to a pub's reputation it is, obviously, vital that everyone connected with cooking, providing and serving food has a sound knowledge of the ingredients in all dishes on the menu.
For it has been known for even a minute amount of an allergenic foodstuff to cause immediate illness - making what should be a pleasurable dining experience anything but.
Problem foods include peanuts and tree nuts (such as brazil nuts, pecans, cashews, pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts) fish and shellfish, beef, milk, eggs, soya and wheat.
So when a customer asks the contents of a dish, never try to bluff if you don't know the answer. Instead, make every effort to find out the ingredients and if there are any doubts advise the customer accordingly. In fact, with bought-in dishes some venues now cut off the ingredients label and place it in a prominent position so that staff can check and offer customers advice with some authority.
In addition to being a good sales tool, menu knowledge also demonstrates your staff's professionalism and instils in the diners a sense of confidence in the service they are receiving.
When a new menu is introduced and new dishes devised then it is best practice to ensure that the whole team is involved so they become conversant with the make-up, presentation and ingredients of all the dishes. In fact, many establishments carry out a menu/food service test.
But whichever method of making staff aware of allergies intolerance is used, if there is any doubt about the ingredients then it is essential a check is made.
Indeed, if there is still any lingering doubt then a check on the supplier's website should give a clear indication of the ingredients used in the dish.
While on the subject of menus, it can't be stressed too much how advisable it is to resist flamboyant and flowery descriptions of dishes. Keep it simple and easy to understand, and stick to 'what it says on the tin'.
It should also be borne in mind that disclaimers covering the non-use of GM-based foods are commonplace, as are warnings about nuts, milk and wheat content.
These are, after all, the three main types of food known to affect allergy sufferers