Are you ready for Saturday?

We don’t just mean the weekend, no, 13 December marks the beginning of a new allergen era, the day the legislation, the snappily named EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation 1169/2011, comes into force. You should be ready, as there’s been plenty of warning! We know that a number of our university Members are finding it difficult to focus on anything else at the moment, so determined are they to be 100% prepared.

However, a recent poll suggests that large swathes of the industry are either under or totally un-prepared. The survey by Caternet found that only a third of F&B managers felt 100% ready and a fifth said they no plans in place. Hmm. It is worth remembering that non-compliance could result in an unlimited fine. So, best to be ready, even if the indication is that some trading standards officers, the people tasked with enforcing the legislation, may take a lenient approach, at least initially. We’d argue that it’s really not worth taking the risk and, in fact, the new law presents a great opportunity to engage with a huge market.

Sarah Sleet, Chief Executive of Coeliac UK, said: ‘Making sure businesses provide clear, unambiguous information to customers enables people with coeliac disease to shop and eat out safely and confidently. The new regulation means people with coeliac disease will have a better understanding of whether the food they purchase from a supermarket or order at a food venue contains gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye. Catering businesses will also benefit significantly as research shows people with coeliac disease – and the family and friends they eat out with – are worth a potential £100m a year to venues willing to provide dishes labelled gluten-free. For businesses that have already taken up this option, the impact on their bottom line is overwhelmingly positive.’

While gluten is only one of the 14 specified allergens, it is a significant one (the others are celery, crustaceans, eggs, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs, mustard, nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, soya and sulphur dioxide). A number of SRA Members have for some time been catering for this substantial market. Among them, Wahaca, with a full gluten-free menu, PizzaExpress with a wide range of menu options and Frankie’s Fish and Chips that runs a separate gluten-free fryer.

For those of you still completely in the dark, and we hope that’s none of you, here’s what you need to do. You must be able to give clear and accurate information about the allergens present in every product you serve to customers; ignorance is no defence and answering a customer’s questions with ‘I don’t know’ could land you in a heap of trouble.

The Food Information for Consumers Regulation 2014 mandates that businesses must be able to communicate which dishes contain any of the aforementioned 14 specified allergens, either through accurate written information provided to customers, for example on the menu or a noticeboard, or by signposting clear instructions explaining how they can obtain that information from staff.

If you are still looking for useful guidance, you can check out the Food Standards Agency guidance or use a simple industry checklist like this one published in Caterer recently. And if you’re still looking for smart ways of communicating all the allergen information to customers, our friends at Good Food Talks – the web programme that makes menus accessible for the visually impaired can help too.