Are you ready for December 13? From that day you will be required to let your customers know of any allergenic ingredients used in dishes on your menu. If you fail to do so you could be liable for an unlimited fine for every offence.
With such a lot at stake why are so many publicans unprepared or even unaware of this major shake-up?
As Jamie Weal, senior food law advisor at testing, calibration and advisory service Exova said: “If incorrect information is given on allergens it can be a life or death situation.”
There is plenty for licensees to think about to make sure they are ready for the legislation, when it comes in during the busy Christmas period, with the right training, processes and documentation in place.
The 14 allergens covered by the legislation are cereals containing gluten, crustaceans - e.g prawns, lobster, crabs and crayfish; eggs, fish, peanuts, soybeans, milk, nuts – e.g almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecans, Brazil, pistachio, Macadamia; celery, mustard, sesame seeds, sulphur dioxide – a preservative found in some dried fruits, lupin, molluscs - e.g mussels, clams, oysters, scallops, snails and squid.
Whether you choose to provide the information on the 14 allergens covered by the legislation via the menu, chalkboard, back of house manual or verbally, there is no escape.
However, while providing information verbally may fulfil the requirements of the legislation it does little to protect publicans from a liability claims if a customer has a reaction to one of the allergens.
As Darren Holmes, risk engagement director for global insurance broker and risk advisor Willis UK, whose clients include restaurants and hotels, said: “We are concerned that complying with the letter of the new legislation may not be enough. To truly protect themselves from liability claims, publicans need to provide evidence that they have complied with the regulations and action is required at the corporate and individual outlet level.”
Responding to confusion about the legislation, Willis has produced a best practice guide to help business protect themselves from allergen-related claims.
The guide's recommendations include the provision of allergen training and information to staff; reviewing food safety procedures including Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) processes; identifying and documenting foods containing allergens – including dishes which are made up of different ingredients.
It also stresses the importance of making information for customers readily available and ensuring the location of the information is known to all staff.
Food Standards Agency guidance suggests up front signposting to where allergen information will be found could be presented in a statement such as “Food allergies and intolerances: Before you order your food and drinks please speak to our staff if you want to know about our ingredients.”
Willis recommends keeping records of food menus and any allergens contained within them for future reference and keeping a diary of menu changes and which menu was in place at any time so that future insurance claims can be validated.
Unilever Food Solutions suggests having a back of house manual or guide that highlights all key areas of the allergen law.
Members of staff should be able to assist customers with any allergen related information required and a guide ready to hand will provide a good point of reference.
Willis UK point out that staff will need to ensure all deliveries are correct and all items are checked off to ensure all suppliers can be traced.
The company also suggests keeping records of which members of staff were trained and what they were trained on in regards to allergens.
Other recommendations from Willis include if you employ staff from agencies then make sure you write to them stating that you require any staff provided to be trained in the new allergen legislation.
Also ensuring that training is updated whenever a change of menu or a change of structure occurs and keep a diary of menu changes and dates when each menu was used.
Food Standards Agency Guidance: other areas to think about
Where food is provided through a buffet format, the allergen information should be provided for each food item separately.
If food is provided by a business free of charge (such as samples and canapés at events or free biscuits served with hot drinks), information about allergenic ingredients must be provided. This should be provided in writing or signposted to where it could be obtained.
Businesses have the flexibility to provide allergenic information for non-pre-packed food orally, such as from a member of staff. It must be ensured though that there is a written notice, menu or label indicating that information is available from a member of staff.
All information provided orally by staff must be backed up in writing to provide consistency, accuracy and verifiable safety procedures.
To ensure that consistent allergenic information is provided, businesses should consider that staff members direct queries to a nominated person.
Businesses selling non-pre-packaged food via a takeaway service which offers purchase by phone or the internet will need to ensure mandatory allergen information is made available to the customer before they decide to buy the product.
For further information visit www.food.gov.uk/business-industry/allergy-guide
Unilever Food Solution’s pub expert Chris Barber says pub caterers can still capitalise on customers with allergens by simply adapting recipes.
The company has produced a UFS Pub How to Guide.
“No pub wants to turn away paying customers, which means its good business sense for pub chefs to have few simple recipe adaptions up their sleeves for customers with common food allergies or intolerances,” said Barber.
“The guide shows how some classic pub meals and menu items - such as fish and chips or steak with green peppercorn sauce - can be made suitable for those with certain food allergies by simply substituting a few of the ingredients. It offers easily digestible tips and advice that a pub of any size can take on board.
To download the guide visit http://www.unileverfoodsolutions.co.uk/your-business/open-pub-business/allergens