Restaurant, delicatessens and cafes – already staggering under the weight of food safety regulation – now have to consider new European rules which require food businesses to provide allergy information on food which is sold unpackaged.
There is no doubt that the EU legislation is important. It is designed to protect consumers.
But the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulations, which came into effect last year, add another layer of complexity to the already mammoth food safety requirements which businesses ignore at their peril.
It is not just the headline cases which illustrate the dangers to hospitality businesses.
If a breach of the new laws – inadvertent or not – reaches the public domain, social media pressure now means that the ensuing reputational damage can be fatal.
For restaurants, the increased burden is quite immense.
The new rules mean staff have to be able to explain in detail the potentially allergenic ingredients in every dish on the menu. This is all very well for venues which have a fixed, unchanging offer, but for outlets in which the menu is changing regularly – to coincide, perhaps, with seasonal produce – the demands on the staff are quite extraordinary.
More and more people are looking for “free from” meals as a matter of course, and businesses have to reflect the increasing intolerance of the public for purveyors who do not take dietary intolerances into account.
The new food information rules affect thousands of businesses and organisations across the UK. All consumers now have to be made aware that products are, for instance, gluten-free and egg-free.
The new rules require food businesses to provide allergy information on food sold unpackaged, in, for example catering outlets and deli counters. As an example, a cafe making up rolls from loose food and wrapping them in cling film would have to provide information about the contents.
The key requirements are that for pre-packed foods, allergen information must be emphasised in the ingredients list and for non-prepacked foods (including catering), allergen information must be made available to consumers.
As of April 1, country of origin information is required for fresh, chilled and frozen meat of sheep, pigs, goats and poultry. Meat already packaged may be sold after this date until stocks are exhausted. And there are new compositional standards for minced meat.
The date of freezing (or first freezing where products have been frozen more than once) will be required for frozen meat, frozen meat preparations and frozen unprocessed fishery products sold as such to consumers.
And drinks with high caffeine content will have to be additionally labelled as not recommended for children or pregnant and breastfeeding women, with the actual caffeine content quoted.
It is an issue for restaurants, hotels, delis – wherever food is produced.
But it also affects institutional organisations such as schools, hospitals and care homes, even airlines, where there is no product information at present.
When a household name TV chef can be publicly pilloried over a failure to warn about potential allergens in food, it is time for the rest of the UK’s food and hospitality industry to sit up and take notice.
• Joanna Wilkie is product specialist (clinical) at food and feed analysts R-Biopharm Rhône.