According to a Government report published last year, Britain has returned to being a global ‘brewing powerhouse’. And the most recent data shows that three breweries open every week, creating a wide range of beers from heavily hopped beers to interesting porters and sour beers.
The hallmark of many small breweries, craft or otherwise, seems to be innovation: creating distinctive tastes and adding unique twists to make their products stand out, or at least away from the major brewers. However, this brewing boom and search for distinctive flavours brings with it a serious issue: allergens.
Allergen awareness regulations
There was much publicity surrounding the allergen awareness regulations when they came into effect in December 2014. This publicity seems to be paying dividends as the most recent research by global bakery Almondy shows that a record 56% of consumers now feel more confident when eating out since the regulations were introduced.
This research suggests that publicans and restaurant/food retailers are managing the food side of the regulations well.
But is there the same level of awareness regarding drinks; specifically beer and wine, both of which are covered by the regulations?
When the law changed, it brought the labelling of ‘loose foods’ in line with those of ‘packaged foods’; and drinks that are sold in quantities, like draft beers for example, are classed as ‘loose foods’.
Therefore, retailers of draft beers should be aware of any allergenic ingredients they contain.
The main allergen risks in beer and wine are gluten, cereals (including barley and wheat) and sulphites. However, with the explosion of different beers and wines from a growing number of breweries, it is not beyond reason that a customer could inadvertently drink something that they are allergic to. For example, there are beers and ales that use oysters, nuts, lactose and even mustard as part of their ingredients; and these are four of the 14 major food allergens identified by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
To the best of my knowledge, no licensee has yet seen any formal enforcement action due to non-communication of allergen information of their drinks. However, I suspect that it will take just one incident of someone falling seriously ill for this issue to become front of mind for enforcement agencies.
Practical steps you could take
The purpose of the allergen awareness regulations is to enable customers dining out to make an informed decision about the food and drink that they are consuming.
Moreover, the principle for the drinks that you serve is the same as for your food: if a customer asks for allergen information you must be able to communicate it to them before they have purchased the items from you.
And your customers must be made aware that allergen information is available to them should they request it, by use of a sign that can be clearly seen at the point where food and drink is ordered.
So, as with your food offering, it would be sensible to write a disclaimer on your printed menus and chalk boards to communicate that some of your drinks might contain allergens, and that your bar staff will gladly inform people of any drinks that do.
This could be a short, simple sentence like: “Our team members will gladly give you information on any allergens contained within our food and draft beverages should you need it”.
To make it easier for your bar staff to remember the ingredients of the draught beers you are selling, a practical step might be to list the ingredients on the back of the beer clips on the pump, or by way of a securely fastened sticker to the back of your keg fonts and towers. That way, your staff will always have the information to hand and won’t need to waste time looking for it, which might be completely impractical during your busy periods.
And where food and drink is served, it is sensible to have a full list of the 14 major allergens as identified by the FSA. The 14 are: celery, cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs, mustard, nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, soya and sulphur dioxide.
Where you can find the allergen information
Your pre-packaged products (ie, bottles/cans of beer, boxes of wine) should have the ingredients and allergen information printed on the label so this should be fairly simple to obtain.
Breweries are required to label any products containing allergens. Therefore, if any of your kegs/barrels don’t contain the information, I suggest that you contact the brewer to get accurate information in
relation to the ingredients contained within them.
With an estimated 17 million people being affected by food allergens across Europe, it is clear that getting this right is vital, not to mention the added incentive of not facing enforcement action or being subject to any adverse publicity should mistakes be made.