A recent study carried out by the Royal Society for Public Health, in the UK, shows that many firms are largely ignoring the new food allergy legislation. Meaning that people with food allergies are still risking their lives when eating out in the UK.
The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) team visited 65 takeaways in and around London and found that 70% of them were not complying completely with the rules that say they need to tell people about common allergens in the food that they serve. In fact, only 1 in 10 had a full record of what was in each dish and 56% had no idea what ingredients were in the menu items that the researchers asked about.
This is despite the fact that since December 2014 all UK food outlets have been required to offer this information by law. Every year 5,000 people with food allergies are hospitalised. On average, 10 people die each year from food-related anaphylaxis, which is why these rules were introduced.
Since December 2014, if a dish has one or more of the 14 most common food allergens, this fact has to be recorded and the information made available to customers.
How that is done is up to the business owner. They have three options. Allergen information can be included alongside each menu item or provided in list form. Alternatively, the information can be provided verbally if a customer asks.
The practice of putting up a notice that says ‘some dishes may contain nuts and other allergens’ is no longer enough. Which allergens are in which dishes has to be made clear, so that clients with food intolerances and allergies know which dishes they need to avoid and which they can eat.
Two other surveys also highlighted the issue. A survey carried out by Overcome Food Intolerances found that the biggest frustration for their readers is that they cannot safely eat out without risking their lives.
On the 21st October 2015, the BBC covered the findings of the Royal Society for Public Health on a programme called Rip Off Britain. They spoke to Marie Findlay of the Royal Society for Public Health about their research, she told them:
“We found incredibly low levels of compliance in the takeaway sector as a whole, and we found around two-thirds weren’t providing the information they needed to be providing it. Four out of five had no system in place.”
The Rip off Britain team carried out their own random testing with similar results. They sent out researchers to visit 15 Manchester based curry houses to find out if they could tell them if any of the 14 main allergens were in the food that they were serving.
Only three of the restaurants provided the proper information. The rest either had no idea or were vague. Most just said on their menus that some dishes may contain nuts or other allergens and had no further information available.
If a company is found not to be complying with the rules, they can be prosecuted and fined up to £5,000. However, so far, no UK business has been prosecuted for not complying with the Food Information Regulations 2014 (FIR) regulations. The advice from the Food Standards Agency is for people who cannot get the information they are legally entitled to is to report the issue to their local Trading Standards or their local Public Health Agency. In the meantime, people with food allergies in the UK are likely to continue to avoid eating out rather than the risk of mistakenly eating something they are allergic to and ending up in hospital.
If you want to avoid this danger our allergy friendly restaurant finder will help.