The legislation has now been in force for several years but, as recent high profile cases and deaths make clear, now is a good time for pubs to check allergens rules.
On July 17, 2016, 15 year old Natahsa Ednan-Laperouse boarded a British Airways flight to Nice. Prior to takeoff, she bought a sandwich from Pret A Manger. The baguette contained sesame seeds to which she had a severe allergy. At 9.50am she ate the sandwich. At 10.50am she lost consciousness, and by 8pm that evening she would be declared dead at a hospital in Nice.
Sadly, this is not the first or last death involving allergens. More recently, Megan Lee died after eating a dish containing peanuts from an Indian takeaway, despite signposting on her online order form that she was allergic to nuts. In October, the owners of the restaurant were convicted of manslaughter.
Indeed, a quick search on Google will reveal an alarming list of deaths as a direct result of eating food containing allergens. Additionally, a study by ITV News revealed local authorities had 368 complaints about allergens information from eating out venues – more than double the 2015 number of 166. 78 of those complaints resulted in anaphylactic shock. Three died as a result.
Now is a good time to check over the allergens rules.
Coming into force in 2014, the current rules are relatively straightforward. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) offers the following guidance – and, if you are in doubt, it is the best point of call to gain information and advice.
For pubs, information about allergen ingredients "should be recorded", and should contain product specification sheets, ingredient labels, and recipes or explanations of the dishes.
It is worth noting that "the customer has a responsibility to tell you about their allergy or intolerance". But once they have, it is then the pub's duty "as part of a conversation with a customer" to provide detailed allergen information. Crucially, this information should be "backed up" in writing to ensure it is accurate and consistent.
Recording all allergen information – and clear communication with staff and suppliers about dishes and menu items – is the best way to make sure that punters with food allergies are given accurate information.
The three crucial elements are: how food allergens are handled; how information is given to the customer; and how staff can be trained about allergens.
Good for business
Clearly, if allergens are recorded and dishes carefully constructed, providing allergen information can be good for business.
Research from the Food Standards Agency, with Allergy UK and the Anaphylaxis Campaign, discovered 60 per cent of young people with food allergy or intolerance avoid eating out because of their condition. But 59 per cent would often visit the same food outlet, if they've eaten safely there before.
So make a point of showcasing your pub as a best practice example of allergens legislation.
There is no downside to taking additional care in dish management and, if you have a creative chef in the kitchen, the challenge of preparing an allergen-free menu may well be an incentive.
Look out for labelling
In the wake of these stories, and growing awareness that current legislation may not be sufficient, the government is currently working with the FSA on a review into strengthening the current allergen framework.
A government spokesperson said that it was launching a public consultation on allergen labelling as it was "essential that all UK consumers have complete trust in the food they are eating, which is why we take the provision of allergen information extremely seriously."
FSA chairman Heather Hancock said that the industry had seen "real progress in how food businesses approach customers with allergies" but more needed to be done.
Heather says: "Living with a food allergy or intolerance is not easy and can have fatal consequences. It's crucial that they feel confident to speak up and ask for allergen information, and that the people around them make that easier.
"Food businesses have an important part to play. They are required always to provide accurate allergen information. Through our easy to ASK campaign, we're encouraging food businesses to make it easier for everyone to ask the question, speak up and help keep those at risk safe."
The 14 allergens
- Cereals containing gluten, namely: wheat (such as spelt and khorasan wheat), rye, barley, oats
- Crustaceans for example prawns, crabs, lobster, crayfish
- Milk (including lactose)
- Nuts; namely almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachio nuts, macadamia (or Queensland) nuts
- Celery (including celeriac)
- Sulphur dioxide/sulphites, where added and at a level above 10mg/kg or 10mg/L in the finished product. This can be used as a preservative in dried fruit
- Lupin, which includes lupin seeds and flour and can be found in types of bread, pastries and pasta
- Molluscs like, mussels, whelks, oysters, snails and squid