Major improvement in pubs' allergen awareness controls

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Big number: 2m people in the UK have a food allergy
Big number: 2m people in the UK have a food allergy

Related tags: Asthma, Allergen

Allergen awareness in pubs has improved since the introduction of the Food Information to Consumers Regulations (FIC) in 2014, according to new research from the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Participants involved in the research felt information about allergens provided on menus was greater in 2016, post-legislation, than in 2014, before its introduction.

Allergens in numbers

  • 2m people in the UK have a food allergy
  • 10 people, on average, die each year as a result of having a food allergy
  • One in 100 people have coeliac disease

Figures from the Food Standards Agency

In December 2014, EU rules came into force in hospitality, meaning any business serving food must provide information on allergenic ingredients either in writing or verbally.

FIC came into play in the middle of the Christmas rush and meant pubs then faced unlimited fines for failing to warn customers about possible allergens in their food.

Overall the research indicated there had been improvements in the eating out experiences of those with a food allergy or intolerance since the implementation of the regulations.

Consumers now have greater confidence in asking staff questions and there has been an increase in the extent to which staff are seen as a resource for confident food choices.

Starting from a very low base there has been a slight increase in how adventurous people felt when they were eating out.

Post-legislation views about the inadequacy of menu information had softened – participants felt it was more adequate than they did pre-legislation.

There were other measures that had seen some more specific changes – for example there was an increase in planning for those seeking to avoid more than two allergens, and parents who were seeking to support their children to avoid allergens were more satisfied post-legislation that menus enabled confident food choices.

But even though the effects are small, it is significant that the results are consistently in the direction of improvement.

The report stated that participants also expressed a preference for venues where they could exercise an element of choice and control; either by selecting components of their meal directly or ordering an allergen-free meal in advance.

One participant said: “It wasn’t a carvery company or anything like that. It was a pub that sort of had everything on show and you went and picked what meat you wanted, then all the veg was there.

“I prefer that because when you buy a roast somewhere, sometimes they put cauliflower cheese on your plate, but when it’s like that, you can put whatever you want on, so I haven’t got to worry about saying ‘oh I don’t want cauli cheese and I don’t want…’.”

Menu information

The information provided on the menu was seen by many to be the main source of information about allergens and overall, people wanted that to be so.

Written information provided by the venue may not completely preclude the need to ask questions but, on the whole, having access to information that was written down inspired confidence.

Inadequate written information limited confident food choice and meant there had to be greater engagement with staff, which was not generally desired.

There was a strong theme, both pre- and post-legislation that menus, rather than staff, should constitute the primary and comprehensive source of information about allergens.

Overwhelmingly, participants wanted allergen/intolerance information to be available in written form, and preferably on the menu.

Any dependence on staff for the delivery of dietary information immediately introduced the potential for embarrassment, an element of risk and a threat to trust and was seen to reduce participants’ potential for freedom, independence and control when making their food choices.

After inspecting the menu, another source of written information was signage and information outside the venue itself.

Participants inspected menus displayed in the venue windows in order to check available food options and the potential suitability of a venue before making the commitment to dine there.

In the post-legislation interviews, there was less mention of menus displayed outside the venue, but instead, signs indicating a venue catered for particular allergen-related requirements – most commonly for those wishing to choose gluten-free food.

There was also greater mention in the post-legislation interviews of using venue websites in order to inspect menus, explore allergy awareness and available food options, and make decisions on potential food selections before eating out.

Overall, when clear allergen-related advice was provided on the menu, participants trusted this information, and experienced greater confidence and control in their food selections.

Prior to the legislation, the overall reaction to the impending legislation was positive and it was seen to have a potential role in increasing confident choices of venues or dishes, to facilitate a wider range of eating experience and in reducing risk.

Significant concern

After the legislation there was split between those who felt there had been a positive change and others who had not seen a difference.

The presence of allergens through cross-contamination rather than in the ingredients remains a significant concern that is not addressed by the legislation.

Reassurance in this area is often provided from what customers can see as much as from any verbal reassurances.

Participants expected the legislation to effect a shift in the onus of responsibility from the customer to the venue.

Some information-sharing practices did not do that – for example, a general instruction to customers to ask staff if they wanted any information.

There were clear perceptions of disparity in provision for different allergens. Gluten-free provision was seen as being widespread, whereas milk-free options were less available and post-legislation, those that were seeking to avoid milk felt more disaffected than those seeking to avoid nuts or cereals containing gluten.

Taking this new research into account, Brighton and London-based pub group Laine Pub Company has signed up labelling and allergen compliance experts Kafoodle to support menu management in its London estate.

The use of Kafoodle in the pub group’s sites aims to help encourage chefs and general managers to better understand and promote low calorie and superfood dishes as well as effectively manage allergen compliance.

Laine Pub Company food and beverage operations manager Chris Cannarile said: “We want our pub menus to cater for customers with a host of dietary needs and, therefore, to provide the best range of options possible.

“Dishes like quinoa burgers, superfoods and summer salads are popular with customers and our work with Kafoodle will allow us to build on this range.

“Kafoodle simplifies and streamlines the process of ensuring staff and customers understand the nutritional and allergen content of the dishes we serve.”

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