The statistics, drawn from analysis by Fourth, comes ahead of the implementation of Natasha’s Law that will make it mandatory to list all ingredients on pre-packaged produce from 2021.
However, findings from a CGA Business Confidence Survey revealed that one in six employees claim not to have received regular training or updates about potential allergy issues; while 58% of employees said they worry when customers ask if food contains certain ingredients.
A pressing nature
When asked which of the 14 listed allergens cause the most concern for front-line food staff, peanuts (49%) topped the list; followed by tree nuts (45%); eggs (38%); cereals (37%); milk (37%); and sesame seeds (31%). When probed about their knowledge on allergens, only 40% said they could name the top 14 allergens listed by the Food Standards Agency.
When it came to staff being faced by a customer suffering an allergic reaction, 35% were able to cope because of staff training, while 31% were unsure what action to take and 4% admit that they panicked.
Fourth CEO Ben Hood said: “Collectively, these pieces of research – with workers, customers, and business leaders – show the urgent and pressing nature of the allergens challenge.”
Tragic high-profile incidences
He continued: “While there is some evidence of pockets of progress, and some excellent working practices, as an industry, we must collaborate to identify the best approach and one that gives both our people and our guests absolute confidence and a consistent experience.
“This issue is the hospitality industry’s ‘cause célèbre’. It is clear, from the tragic high-profile customer incidents, the far-too-many ‘near misses’ that we are all aware of, plus this study and the inconsistent experience from venue to venue – be that a restaurant, pub, café or hotel – that action is critical.”
The study revealed that when asked about their employee training frequency on allergens, 19% conducted it daily; 18% weekly; 37% monthly; and 14% bi-annually.
Tackle with technology
Conclusively, 78% of respondents viewed technology as important or fundamental to tackling allergens.
Hood continued: “Clearly, technology can be the linchpin in this process alongside training, standards and best practice and we are determined to support the industry to tackle this challenge head-on, utilising our technology, network and expertise.”
While Natasha’s Law is due to come into force in 2021, for packaged foods, there is currently no equivalent legislation for food dishes served direct from a kitchen in hospitality venues, such as hotels, pubs and restaurants.
Allergy UK CEO Carla Jones said: “This kind of research is so important for a better understanding of food providers’ knowledge and awareness of allergen management and, most importantly, the level of commitment to training in the industry.
“Allergy UK’s Allergy Awareness Scheme is a recognition for catering businesses that have robust allergen management procedures in place to safeguard both their business and their food allergic customers.”
Fourth will be running a series of events looking at allergens, bringing together experts from across the sector, to create a code of best practice on how to tackle this major operational challenge.