Over the last few months the catering/food service industry has been getting in a major lather over the imminent (2014) implementation of regulations requiring them to declare the presence of major allergens in their products – bringing them into line with the retail trade which has had to do so for some years now.
However, while declaring the presence of an allergen on your pack is relatively easy, doing so when there are no packs is a great deal more difficult – which is why the regulators have shied away from it for so long. However, they have finally bitten the bullet and yesterday (7th November) DEFRA sent out the proposed regulations for ‘consultation’. Which means that we can all have our say and, conceivably, if any of us have anything useful to say, they may take it on board.
The relevant bit of the document is section 5:
Foods that are not prepacked etc. containing an allergenic substance or product etc.
5.—(1) A food business operator who offers for sale a relevant food to which this regulation applies may provide the particulars specified in Article 9(1)(c) in relation to that food in any manner that they choose, including, subject to paragraph (3), orally.
(2) This regulation applies to a relevant food that is offered for sale to the final consumer or to a mass caterer otherwise than by means of distance communication and that is—
(a) not prepacked;
(b) packed on the operator’s premises at the consumer’s request; or
(c) prepacked for direct sale.
(3) Where a food business operator intends to provide the particulars specified in Article 9(1)(c) relating to a relevant food orally, they must indicate that details of the Annex II substance or product used as an ingredient or processing aid in the manufacture or preparation of the food, or derived from such a substance or product, can be obtained by asking a member of staff.
(4) The indication mentioned in paragraph (3) must be given—
(a) on a label attached to the food; or
(b) on a notice, menu, ticket or label that is readily discernible by an intending purchaser at the place where they choose that food.
(5) In relation to a relevant food to which this regulation applies, the Article 9(1)(c) particulars provided by a food business operator must be provided with a clear reference to the name of the substance or product listed in Annex II.
(6) In this regulation “relevant food” means a food in which an ingredient or processing aid listed in Annex II, or derived from a substance or product listed in Annex II, has been used in its manufacture or preparation and that is still present in the finished product (even if in an altered form).
If you can cut through the obfuscating jargon what this means is that:
1. Anyone selling food that is not pre-packed in a retail pack e.g. a caterer, restaurant, pub, café, market stall etc etc – must provide information about the *’major’ allergens in the food that they are selling.
2. They can do so:
a. Orally – by telling you about it
b. Or any other way they want to – presumably by printing it on an information sheet or a menu, putting it on their website (inconvenient when you are already trying to order your meal), developing an app……?
The seriously dodgy bit about this, as anyone who has tried eating out with an allergy will realise immediately, is the ‘orally’. OK, the restaurant or whatever may now be obliged to ‘tell’ you about any allergens in any of their dishes – and even have to put up a notice telling you that they have to tell you – but what chance is there that they will tell you accurately?
Because of the nature of the catering trade, serving staff are 95% foreign (often with a poor grasp of English), temporary and poorly trained in basic food safety let alone the complexities of allergy. Even if they are willing, the chances of them actually getting the facts about allergens in the foods they are serving right are often vanishingly small.
Yes, it is certainly good news that allergen information on non-pre-packed food is going to have to be available but from the allergy sufferer’s point of view, they would be far better off if the outlet concerned had to provide them with a printed list of ingredients, highlighting the major allergens, on request – not just ‘tell them’ about the allergens. When waiters in up-market restaurants that pride themselves on offering gluten-free alternatives can still offer a coeliac a ‘safe’ dish because it has no butter in it – what hope in Joe’s Caff or down the Old Dog and Duck?
So, since we have an opportunity to comment on the proposed regulations, can I suggest that as many of you as possible actually do so. Please welcome the arrival of the regulations but ask the regulators to tighten up No. 5 (1) to read:
A food business operator who offers for sale a relevant food to which this regulation applies should provide the particulars specified in Article 9(1)(c) in relation to that food in a written format that allows the customer to study the ingredients of the food product and be sure that the information about allergens that they are being given is reliable. This information should NOT be conveyed orally.
The full text of the consultation is to be found on the DEFRA site here , more general information on the DEFRA site here, where you will also find the address for responses if you wish to write rather than email; if you wish to email, do so to firstname.lastname@example.org
You might wish to quote this reference to make sure that your comment is attached to the right consultation!
Consultation on Food Information Regulations (FIR) 2013 – Draft SI (November 2012)
N.B. The full list of ‘major allergens’ mentioned above is to be found below – as is the text of the email that I have just sent to DEFRA.
However, for any of you who are milk or egg allergic and have not caught up with the latest on that front, the good news is that since the last update in July 2012 the ‘following compulsory details must be visible although are not required to be within the same field of vision as the country of origin, bottler’s details, nominal volume and actual alcoholic strength:
• Lot Number
• Sulphur dioxide, eggs, milk
using one of the expressions in format “Contains….” shown in the guidance note issued by the European Commission in English eg
‘egg’, ‘egg protein’, ‘egg product’, ‘egg lysozyme’ or ‘egg albumin’
‘milk’, ‘milk products’, ‘milk casein’ or ‘milk protein’
At least you will be able to drink safely, when you go out on the town, even if you are not sure whether you will be able to eat safely!
* The major allergens (for the full list see the FSA website here)
Dear Sirs –