The allergy world is once again in uproar over an article published in today’s Telegraph.
Peter Dominiczak, Political Editor of the Telegraph, has received an open letter from more than 100 top chefs expressing their anger regarding the new EU legislation on how the top 14 allergenic foods are identified in foods prepared or sold loose on site for consumption, and how it will cause ‘significant damage’ to the catering industry.
Why I hear you ask!
Back in December 2014, the new EU allergens regulations came into force, which require restaurants and caterers to provide information of every ingredient classified as an allergen which is used in their dishes. The minimum standard is to provide the details verbally, but most choose to print the details, to ensure accuracy is consistent.
The information covers 14 allergens (eggs, molluscs, crustaceans, celery, milk, fish, treenuts, sulphites, soya, sesame, peanuts, mustard, lupin and gluten), and if not declared, fines of up to £5,000 can be imposed.
It was hoped that with the new legislation, people suffering with allergies would find it safer to buy food, and/or eat out. Anyone who is part of the allergy world will know that this much harder than it needs to be, and even simple trips to the supermarkets take far longer than they need to, or should. Never mind eating out safely!
Part of the letter states:
“As chefs, restaurateurs, hoteliers and caterers, we are concerned about the bureaucratic nightmare the recent EU allergen regulations have imposed on our businesses.
“And it is not just the cost. They will reduce the spontaneity, creativity and innovation restaurants and others in the industry have enjoyed up until now.
“We need real change in the EU as the last thing small, independent businesses like restaurants and cafes need is to be hampered with further regulations and an even longer rulebook.”
Now, as an allergy business owner, and also a mum to a child with severe allergies, this worries me greatly!
There is no real extra cost when having to adhere to this regulation. Ok, so if adhering to the gold standard, some extra words need to be printed on menus, or a spreadsheet needs to be created to provide details of ingredients in dishes, and staff will need to be trained to ensure they are compliant, but actually, isn’t it best practice to be doing all of this already?
And, if it’s a mum protecting her little one when eating out, trust me, she’ll know way more than any training workshop/ programme can ever teach you. When you see your little one go through a severe life threatening reaction, you make it your life’s work to ensure it never happens again! Literally, in my case!
I am a foodie, I love ingredients, and thoroughly enjoy experimenting with foods to create a sumptuous meal that is allergen safe. And I’m NOT a trained chef!
Being mindful of allergies and cross-contamination is NOT going to reduce spontaneity, creativity or innovation. If anything, it should IMPROVE it as you find ways to get around the problem of allergens, and create a dish that knocks the socks off the others, and is safe! Check out the recipes on my blog if you don’t believe me!
Cooking is about enjoying what you do, not about excuses, and surely, when you create a safe recipe (of which I create many on a monthly basis for my clients!) you get a real buzz out of it!
I work as a consultant, and I’d be happy to work alongside the top chefs, showing them how it can be done, without fuss, anger, fear or frustration.
They should be embracing this new way of thinking, and understand that by adhering to the new regulations they are actually enabling their restaurants to be accessible to a whole new market, ones that will trust what they have to offer, and will enjoy the tasty delights that they create, without having to worry about reactions!
The important bit that the chefs are missing here though….. they are not being asked to avoid cooking with the allergens, they are merely being asked to state which dishes contain them!!
One of the comments by Miss Miers, who won BBC cookery competition Masterchef in 2005 baffles me:
“It is a total fiasco and in my view is the responsibility of the allergee to ask, no the restaurateurs to list. I had a severe allergy for 6 years so coming at it from both sides of the fence.”
I totally agree, it is up to the allergee/ parent of allergee to take full responsibility. But equally, as someone who suffered with a ‘severe’ allergy, you should know better than anyone how frustrating it is when you go out to eat somewhere and have no idea of exact ingredients involved. Would you gamble ‘russian roulette’ style, and wonder maybe it will be safe?! If a severe allergy, is it really worth the risk?
As to Ms Leith and her comment of:
"These new rules on the labelling of allergens are a bureaucratic nightmare that will inflict significant damage on the catering industry, particularly on smaller business – which must be assessed before any more damage is done."
May I remind you of the ‘damage’ caused if allergies are not taken seriously, such as the awful case of the 18 year old lady who went out for dinner at Almost Famous Burgers, asked about allergens used, was advised it was safe, and then suffered a fatal anaphylactic reaction. Or, how about the reaction my son suffered when we had a waitress who didn't listen to the seriousness of cross-contamination?
Now, tell me, what is more damaging? Paying more attention to menus and correctly labelling ingredients used for the dishes, or somebody losing their life, and the proprietor facing the very real prospect of being sued?
Puts things into perspective somewhat doesn’t it!
There is also the comment from Matthew Elliot, from campaign group Business for Britain, which organised the letter:
“This is a costly overreaction from Brussels using a regulatory sledgehammer to crack a nut. Diners with allergies can and should be able to eat out with allergies, but this has unfairly placed too great a burden on the catering industry which will hurt customers, and in particular small independent businesses. These rules have come straight from the EU with little debate or warning at home. They are unaccountable to diners and businesses across the UK.”
Actually, I think 2 years of warning was more than sufficient. If chefs chose to bury their heads in the sand and hope that if they ignored it, it would go away, then more fool them.
It most definitely won’t ‘hurt’ customers, it will keep more customers safe!
It isn’t ‘too great a burden’, most places have responded really well to the changes, such as Byron, Harvester, Pizza Express and more!
What are these ‘top chefs’ so afraid of? Why are they worried about admitting what ingredients they use? Should we the consumer be worried about what may be uncovered as a result?
Menus are entered into the system, and full allergen information is specified for each dish. This allergen information is then reproduced on all menus, whether you print them yourself or put them in your website. If a dish’s allergen information changes, it takes 30 seconds to update it and your online menus are automatically updated.
What’s more, FreeMyMenu.com allows restaurants to filter menus to exclude allergens before printing. Imagine going to a restaurant and being handed a menu containing only dishes you can eat, instead of having to look through all the ones you can’t. That’s what restaurants using Free My Menu can do.
Yet another person with an allergy who didn't really read the article, & did even less research on the matter.
100 top chefs?!? Really? Did you actually bother to read who signed the letter? No, clearly not. It is predominantly business owners & orchestrated by an anti EU lobby group. Not 1Michelin starred chef is on that letter, which is a better barometer of what a 'Top chef' is than anything else out there, including the thoughts of the Daily Telegraph.
So really all you are doing is playing into their hands. These FIC regs are law & they are enforced by Trading Standards, with support from EHOs.
Your post is incorrect in so many ways. Caterers DON'T need to present allergen information on menus, nor do they have to do an indepth audit either. They have to demonstrate that if any of the 14 allergens are present in dishes (suppliers also have to supply the same info to restaurants). They ONLY have to give the information VERBALLY to the customer in the UK, whilst on Mainland Europe, it must be in a written form.
Whilst having a food allergy is a serious matter, this legislation is relieving the customer of responsibility. How many times as a chef I would find out when a customer was sat at the table that they had dietary requirements, rather than informing us at the time of booking. Or the habitual classic " I have a lactose intolerance/allergy" & then the person orders cheese or panna cotta.
For a more informed view, I've written this: http://chefhermes.com/the-reply-100-top-chefs-write-to-the-daily-telegraph-about-allergens/
I wrote the words ‘top chefs’ to highlight the fact that, absolutely, no Michelin starred chefs are present. And I do totally agree with you, these Michelin starred chefs do indeed deserve the accolade of ‘top’ chef over anyone else. I am in awe of their creations, and will continue to be for the foreseeable!
I agree that the ingredients need to be provided verbally as a minimum, but I’m sure you will concur, that for continuity and accuracy purposes, it reduces the significant chances of ‘risk’ to provide them in some form of written format – usually a spreadsheet will more than suffice!
As to your comment about patrons claiming to have an allergy, and then proceeding to order a dish with the very ingredient they claim to be allergic to provides quite a dilemma. I can fully appreciate your frustration, and will even join you in exclaiming my extreme frustration as well. It is because of this, that the very people who have severe and serious allergies (my son included) find it so very difficult to eat out safely. As a chef witnessing first-hand the ‘fashionable’ dalliances into being dairy/wheat/gluten free etc, I am sure you have come across many who are in fact oblivious/ not bothered/worried about eating the very ingredient they claim to be ‘allergic’ to. Unfortunately, if my son were to do this, he would most likely stop breathing and require significant medical attention!
This aside, I have to say, I have read your blog post, and it is extremely well written! :)
rly stated on the menu, it'd make it so much was easier for the allergy inflicted customer. This would surely mean more food allergy customers eating out, so more profits in the till!!