‘Now EU wants allergy alerts on all menus’ – well, no…

Prue LeithPrue Leith hit the headlines in the Daily Mail this week when she condemned the new allergen regulations for food service coming into force in December as a ‘bureaucratic nightmare’ that will ‘kill innovation and experimentation in the kitchen and cooking what is available daily in the market’.

Well, I know it was the Mail – but that really was a bit rich!  And factually inaccurate to boot. So, what’s new?….

So, for anyone who may have been alarmed by the Mail and Ms Leith’s rhetoric, this is the comment that I made on the article:

1. The new regulations do not require the 14 major allergens to be listed on menus, they require any eating out establishment to be able to tell a customer whether those allergens have been used in the food that they are about to eat.

2. This does not prevent the chef changing their menus or dishes but it does require them to note any changes and, if those changes include adding one of those 14 major allergens to the dish, to make sure that the waiting staff know so that they can tell an allergic customer if they ask.

3. The latest figures suggest that 17% of the population across Europe suffer from a food allergy (so eating the food to which they allergic could make them seriously ill) while between 6 and 10% of the population are now thought to suffer from coeliac disease (which means that eating wheat or gluten will make them seriously ill). All of these people need to know about allergens in their food if they are to eat out safely. 

Or, if you want the version with all ‘i’s dotted and all ‘t’s crossed, this is the press release I sent out this morning:

The new regulations, requiring all eating out establishments to be able to list any of the 14 major allergens (1) that may be in their food, are part of the labelling changes coming into force in December this year to help those Europeans suffering from food allergies, coeliac disease and other food-related health problems – now a significant section of the population. 
Indeed, figures published this week by the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) (2) suggest that up to 17% of Europeans now suffer from a food allergy, while incidence of coeliac disease (requiring a gluten free diet) continues to grow year on year. Currently 1 in every 70 people are diagnosed as coeliac but the number of coeliacs as yet undiagnosed are thought by some to be as many as 500,000. (3)
But, contrary to what the Mail suggests:
1. The regulations DO NOT require all allergens to be listed on the menu – they just require the outlet (the chef and the waiting staff) to know what allergens have been used in the food so that they can tell an allergic or coeliac customer, who will then be able to order meal that is safe for them.
2. The regulations DO NOT as Prue Leith suggests, stifle creativity – they merely require the chef to make a note of any allergens that he/she may use in a dish so that an allergic/coeliac customer can be informed.
This does not constitute a ‘bureaucratic nightmare’ – merely a slight expansion of existing record keeping practices.
Most of those with food allergies and coeliac disease rarely eat out
As of now those suffering from food allergies and coeliac disease eat out less than once a week compared to three to four times a week among the average population. Why? 
Because they do not trust restaurants or cafés to understand about their allergies or to be able to offer them a reasonable choice of ‘safe’ foods. (4)
Massive opportunity for food service
The imposition of the new regulations offers a massive opportunity to food service outlets who can use them to help develop interesting and ‘safe’ allergen free dishes to attract this population.
Good ‘freefrom’ restaurants will:
1. Get the loyal and enthusiastic custom of food allergies and coeliacs, able, at last, to eat out enjoyably and safely.
2. Get the custom of their friends and families who will accompany them to their new ‘safe’ outlets.
3. Benefit from the free publicity generated by the very active allergy/coeliac social media community who will tweet and Facebook their new ‘eating out find’ enthusiastically.
(1) Cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, molluscs, eggs, fish, peanuts, nuts, soybeans, milk, celery, mustard, sesame, lupin and sulphur dioxide at levels above 10mg/kg, or 10 mg/litre, expressed as SO2.


  1. Jeemboh says:

    As always, the devil lies in the detail. Its very easy to turn an updating of existing regulations into a bureaucratic nightmare. And, a fine opportunity for the anti EU press to stir up a Eurosceptic head of steam. Thanks for giving us the facts.

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