A new study conducted by the Food Standards Agency ( FSA ) has exposed that a high percentage of young people aged between 16-24 with food allergies fear eating out at restaurants and in some cases, have specifically avoided going out to eat.
The FSA study showed a staggering 64% of food allergy sufferers had avoided going out in the last 6 months. These results could be down to the lack of faith allergen sufferers have in restaurants and menu options, or it could be that they're comfortable with a certain restaurant and do not wish to 'create a scene' at a new establishment.
The food industry has worked to give greater transparency on nutritional and allergen information across the last 5 years, after the European Commission introduced the 'Food Information To Consumers' legislation in 2014. This legislation made it compulsory to detail nutritional and allergen information on food packaging and non-prepacked food, including in restaurants and cafes.
Responses to the FSA survey detailed that a high percentage of allergen sufferers were aware that it was a legal right for businesses to openly show ingredient information on the top 14 allergens.
Understandably, when it's a literal matter of life and death, sufferers may be cautious when trying new restaurants and dishes. Customers want to feel confident when ordering food and have an enjoyable and relaxing time when out.
ELAS Food Safety Director, Fiona Sinclair, illustrates the hard work that the majority of food businesses have undergone to help allergy sufferers:
"On one hand it is the case that the food industry overall provides more allergen information and has better controls in place than ever before. With the introduction of the Food Information for Consumers Regulations in 2014, many businesses have now got robust procedures in place to comply with the law and keep customers with allergies safe. For example, accurate information on allergens for each menu item, signage encouraging customers to tell them about their allergies, allergen buttons on tills, allergen awareness training for staff and managers and tight communication if a customer has an allergy.
On the other hand, from our experience too many businesses still don’t have safeguards in place, some virtually none, and in such cases consumers are right to exercise cautions. We find this to be more common with smaller businesses who may still be unaware of requirements. For consumers with serious allergies their life is virtually in the hands of a chef or waiter.
There are a few suggestions we would suggest for consumers with allergies, to help them assess whether the place they wish to eat out can be trusted. For example, check their food hygiene rating although this is a quite basic measure and not the be all and end all. Asking for allergen information, if it is not provided up front is a must, and gauging how the staff respond. Don’t be afraid to ask them what precautions they will take with your meal. Your’re much more likely to get a clear and forthcoming answer from a premises with safe and clear allergen procedures, well trained staff and effective management in place.
Here at ELAS, some of our restaurant group clients have excellent procedures in place and as a result gain a lot of repeat business, as allergy sufferers trust them. However they still want customers to tell them at each visit if they have an allergy so they can take extra care when prepping their meal.
So in summary, we can understand caution in eating out, but would recommend asking a few simple questions to gauge whether your restaurant or takeaway of choice can be trusted."
In May we held and STS Food Safety Round Table which resulted in a whitepaper focusing on allergen control within the food industry. Our whitepaper details the steps that businesses can take to safeguard their customers and employees when dealing with allergens.
Some of the points discussed include:
- Making sure your training is up to scratch
- Your supply base management
- Avoiding customer complacency
- Reporting allergen complaints
- Technology solutions