Do pubs need to remove their allergy labelling

 According to the latest local authority food law report by the Food Standards Agency, pubs are not at par with other players in the food industry when it comes to food allergen labelling. The report got published on the 11th of November 2015; the FSA compiled the report using data collected throughout the country on the enforcement of Food Information to Consumers Regulation, as well as cleanliness and allergen labelling.

The regulation, effective as from December 13th, 2014, required all pubs and food enterprises to provide information on 14 food allergens. Namely Gluten, crustaceans, molluscs, eggs, fish, peanuts, nuts, soya, milk, celery, mustard, sesame, lupin and sulphur dioxide over 0.001% per kg or litre.

Despite having a food risk rating of 96%; an improvement of 1% in the last 12 months, experts say the rating for allergen labelling still has a significant problem in pubs and clubs when considered over the same 12 month period.

According to Steve Osborn, a leading food and beverage consultant at Aurora Ceres Partnership, a small number of food businesses had a negative response concerning the Food Information to Consumers Regulation that got implemented last year. While speaking to the Publican’s Morning Advertiser, Steve said it he was disappointed that the report contained a negative review pertaining to the necessity for allergen labelling as well as anything to do with providing information to consumers.

In addition to that, he added that over the last few decades; food serving pubs had made strides in improving their hygiene in order to maintain a competitive balance with their competitors in the eating out sector which is continually growing. With this consideration, such information is crucial to the continued success witnessed in the industry.

 According to Teresa Dupay founder of Menu Analyser, many pubs were unaware of severe penalties they could face such as a prison term sentences or fines resulting from failure to provide adequate food labelling.

Claims by Osborn and Dupay on labelling are backed by online research carried out by Food Allergy Awake on 100 free-form consumers. The survey demonstrated that it’s no easy task to get adequate allergen information in the eating out sector.

According to the survey, 70% of respondents took the initiative to inform the eating venues of their dietary needs before they arrived. However, 64% of the respondents still had to inquire the information when they got to the venue. Upon receiving the information, 36% of the respondents claimed the information provided was confusing while 35% of them realised that the information was erroneous forcing them to lose their confidence when eating out.

In general, 46% and 36% of the respondents found the information provided on allergens in chain restaurants better than in smaller venues with respect to the above percentages.

Nonetheless, when it came to allergen cross-contamination knowledge, the staff in large chain restaurants performed poorly. Only 13% of those questioned by the respondents were able to provide answers on the matter.

The Food Allergy Training Consultancy founder, Caroline Benjamin, said there was no surprise from the survey results for members of the free-form community. Mainly because food businesses are currently not paying adequate attention when specifying foods when it comes to dealing with the food allergy customer. And as far as training on the matter was concerned, it was either being overlooked or done to a bare minimum and allergen charts were displaying a small resemblance to the actual composition of dishes. She hopes it won’t take the severe case of a tragedy for businesses to take up their obligations under the new regulations seriously.

She also stated that it would be very easy for pub owners to get the labelling right. Starting with simpler menus as well as ensuring that their suppliers provide allergen information for all their products. The information should then be compiled in accordance to the ingredients that go into every dish and recorded in a folder for reference purposes when consumers make inquiries.

Steve Livens, product assurance and supply chain manager at BBPA, on the other hand, defended the pubs in the food sector saying that the FSA report depicted a near excellent picture of hygiene standards in pubs. He added that the norms were rising with respect and comparison to the performance in restaurants.

He also said that the BBPA was taking the allergens issue seriously and was working closely with relevant authorities to create awareness as well as ensure food business comply with the new rules.