According to recent research from the Food Standards Agency – the legislation has helped, but not spectacularly.
The agency used interviews and food diaries from food allergic and intolerant people across the UK, both before and a year after the legislation came into force, to find out how they would like to be provided with information when they ate out, and whether they thought provision of information had improved since the legislation.
Starting, as they point out, from a very low base (interviewees had tended not to be adventurous at all when they ate out at all so any improvement would be significant) interviewees were being rather more adventurous both in going out and in what they chose when they were out.
While most people still preferred to consult a written source of information about their proposed eateries (website, menus etc) before they decided to go out and when they actually got there, the best experiences were always had when the staff at their chosen eateries were knowledgable and informed. But most respondents were also very aware of a ‘range of subtle cues from staff and the broader ‘body language’ of the venue to get a sense of how much they could be trusted to provide a safe eating out experience’.
Attitudes to signs asking guests to make themselves known to staff if they had allergy problems were mixed. Some saw them as a cop out – just box ticking – others saw them as genuinely helpful and encouraging.
However, more information about allergens did not necessarily mean greater choice of allergen-free dishes. Coeliacs and those on gluten-avoiding diets were seen to fare best with the widest choice of gluten-free dishes, while those with milk/dairy issues felt that they were very poorly catered for.
For the full report see the FSA’s website here.