It has become a known fact that food allergies are on the rise the world over, and for some reason this rise is far more prevalent in our own Western industrialised societies. This is causing increased concerns for food outlets and customers alike, leaving many people with food allergies in a constant concerned state wondering if the food they order is truly safe and free from allergens? So, for the many people struggling with food allergies, dining out can be an extremely stressful occasion and in some cases, life-threatening or fatal.
Due to this rise in allergies we have seen a correlated increase in media reports on the shocking cases of food mislabelling and cross contamination in kitchen areas – some of which have led to serious allergic reactions and even the unfortunate and unnecessary deaths of some customers. Not too long ago, a UK teenager, Owen Carey died from anaphylactic shock after unwittingly eating a Byron Burger’s buttermilk marinated chicken. His grieving family have since demanded a change in the law to compel eateries to display full and clear allergen information on their menus.
The current laws states that for food outlets producing non-pre-packed food, restaurants and other eateries the establishment must tell customers if any of their dishes contain any of the 14 most common allergens – either via a menu, chalkboard, information pack or verbally through staff members.
But is this really enough and what else can the restaurants do?
Contact us if you have been affected by miscommunicated allergen information and would like to discuss in more detail.
Suing for allergic reactions due to a lack of information is definitely making restaurant owners more alert to the growing problem. However, this topic is really still a hot bed of current debate as verbally discussing the potential allergens in food or relying on information to be correctly transcribed onto chalkboards or printed on menus, is leaving far too much room for human error.
With the list of allergens being substantial ensuring the concise and correct communication of these, in often noisy environments, is an issue which still needs addressing. Misinterpreted, misunderstood or simply missing information is all too common and with reliance on busy waiting staff to communicate this correctly there is simply no consistency in how to do this, or guarantee that the correct information will be relayed between the customer, waiting staff and kitchen. This is where life threatening mistakes can happen.
Quite frankly allergic reactions are currently a ticking timebomb and eating out whilst living with an allergy can be akin to playing Russian roulette.
Food allergy campaigners say that all food outlets need to be totally honest and open about the ingredients they use, and a full declaration of ingredients is probably the best way forward. There have thankfully been some positive developments in this area with Natasha’s Law helping to push the information sharing in the right direction.
This was introduced after the teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, died after suffering an allergic reaction to a Pret a Manger baguette. From 2021 this law will ensure that pre-packed food will have an ingredients list with any allergens emphasised and for non-prepacked food, for example food sold in a restaurant, the information for every item that contains any of the 14 allergens must be provided.
Thankfully, some popular restaurants are taking steps to use online menus and apps which allow customers to filter out foods according to their allergy. This is a step in the right direction helping people to make an informed choice about what they might eat and what they have to avoid.
There is however a long way to go before the whole food industry can confidently meet the needs of allergen sufferers and dining out can become the relaxed affair it is supposed to be.