The report, which was published today (11 November) by the FSA, compiled data from local authorities about food law enforcement activity across the country, including hygiene and allergen labelling.
Although pubs and clubs had improved their food risk rating by 1% to 96% for the 12 months between 1 April 2014 and 31 March 2015, compared with the same period in the previous 12 months, allergen labelling was still an issue, the experts claimed.
Some food businesses had responded negatively to Food Information to Consumer Regulations, which came into force in December last year, according to Steve Osborn, principal consultant for food and beverage at the Aurora Ceres Partnership.
“It was disappointing that there was something of a negative response [in the report] to the need for allergen labelling and anything that can be done to provide information to consumers,” he told the Publican’s Morning Advertiser.
Such information was vital to the continued success of food-serving pubs, which had upped their hygiene game over the past few decades in a bid to keep-up with the competition from the growing eating out sector, he added.
Serious issues that could occur
Pubs weren’t aware of the serious issues, such as fines and prison sentences, which could occur from not offering adequate allergen labelling, according to the founder of the company Menu Analyser Teresa Dupay.
Online research from Food Allergy Aware backed Dupay’s and Osborn’s claims. The survey of 100 free-from consumers showed that getting clear allergen information in the eating out sector wasn’t easy.
Seventy percent of those surveyed informed venues of their dietary needs before arriving, yet 64% of respondents still had to ask for the information when they got there.
Training is bare minimum
Training is of a bare minimum or is being overlooked, with allergen charts baring very little resemblance to the composition of the dish. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take a tragedy for businesses to sit up and take notice of their obligations under the new regulations
- Caroline Benjamin
When they received the information, 36% of respondents claimed it was confusing and 35% spotted errors in it, which affected their confidence when dining out.
Respondents found the allergen information in chain restaurants of better quality (46%) than that given in smaller venues (36%).
However, staff knowledge on allergen cross-contamination was poor in larger chains, with just 13% of staff asked by the respondents able to answer questions about allergens and cross-contamination.
Caroline Benjamin, founder of the Food Allergy Training Consultancy, which carried out the survey, said: “The results from the survey are not very surprising to those in the free-from community, currently food businesses are not paying attention to detail when managing the food allergy customer.
“Training is of a bare minimum or is being overlooked, with allergen charts baring very little resemblance to the composition of the dish. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take a tragedy for businesses to sit up and take notice of their obligations under the new regulations.”
If pub managers didn’t get allergen information right, they could risk losing their businesses, warned Dupay.
“It’s very simple to get it right, though. Pubs can make their menus simpler and make sure that their food suppliers have all of the allergen information on their products before they come into the kitchen.
“Then it’s just a case of going through each ingredient for each dish and listing the allergens and putting that into a folder for the staff to use when customers ask.”
She added: “But I’ve been into a lot of pubs and asked about allergen labelling and have been looked at like I was from Mars.”
However, British Beer and Pub Association product assurance and supply chain manager Steve Livens defended the sector, and said: "Overall, the FSA report paints a very positive picture of standards of hygiene in pubs, which are rising, and in line with the performance of restaurants.
"When it comes to allergens, the BBPA and our members take the issue very seriously and have done a huge amount of work to raise awareness of the new legislation. There is also guidance and help for pubs freely available on our website.
"We continue to work with the enforcement authorities to help ensure that all food businesses are compliant with the new rules."
From 13 December last year, pubs and other food businesses were required to provide information on the 14 known food allergens by law.
The known allergens
- Cereals containing gluten
- Sulphur dioxide at levels above 10mg/kg or 10mg/litre