Since the introduction of allergen information rules in 2014, are people with food allergies and intolerances more confident about eating out?
Over 2 million people in the UK have a food allergy, with an estimated 600,000 having coeliac disease and in acknowledgement of this, in December 2014, the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU FIC) changed the way food businesses had to provide allergen information to consumers.
To understand the effect of this change, the Food Standards Agency commissioned detailed research on a UK representative sample of people with food allergies and intolerances. Undertaken by the University of Bath, the study focused on consumer preferences when eating out, both before and after the implementation of the EU FIC.
The study also compared views from consumers on how food businesses responded to the allergen rules pre and post-implementation.
The research found that, following the introduction of the new food allergen labelling rules:
- 70% of food allergic and intolerant consumers feel more confident in asking staff for allergen information
- 56% of food allergic and intolerant consumers value staff more as a source of information
- 44% of food allergic and intolerant consumers are more ‘adventurous’ about eating out
- 67% feel allergen information on food business websites is dependable
- 63% say talking to the chef about their allergen needs can be relied on
- 35% report an improvement in allergen information in the menu.
Those with food allergies and intolerances feel more confident about eating out and are more likely to eat out than they used to, according to this research. Equally, they are more likely to return to and recommend venues where the staff are helpful and attentive about their allergen needs.
Providing detailed and accurate allergen information is good for business
Heather Hancock, Chairman of the Food Standards Agency, said: ‘Everyone should be able to trust their food. When people live with a food allergy or intolerance that can make them really ill or be life threatening, that trust becomes critical. This new research shows that many food businesses have a good understanding of the allergen information rules, with the result that consumers trust them and feel confident that they’ll be safe when eating out.
‘I’m delighted that we’ve been able to work with food businesses to make such a difference, improving public health and enhancing choice and confidence for millions. Some, often smaller, food businesses haven’t got on top of providing allergen information yet. I hope this research helps them see the importance of meeting their obligations and the benefits it delivers. At the FSA, we’ll be increasing our efforts to ensure businesses understand their responsibilities and their customer.’
Do you agree with these findings? How do you find your experiences of eating out? Personally, I think the labelling legislation for food establishments is a good thing. It has definitely made restaurant owners more aware of their obligations to cater for allergies. On the other hand, some restaurants feel it is enough to provide information about what is in their food, without actually fulfilling a need to cater for those with special dietary needs. On occasion, we have gone out to eat, been given a ‘catalogue’ of information containing everything that is in every dish on offer, only to find we can’t actually order anything for our son who is both dairy and gluten intolerant.
It is one thing to offer this information, but what point does it serve, if he can’t eat anything?
In most, good and knowledgeable restaurants, you only deal with the manager or head chef when it comes to dietary needs and in our experience, when we have a special request, like gluten and dairy free, they will offer to make something suitable.
I would love to be able to go into a coffee shop and freely choose something both dairy and gluten free though. That is yet to happen in most establishments near to me. Gluten free, yes, dairy free, perhaps but unlikely, both – well, you might find one thing if you’re lucky and whilst everyone else tucks into a sandwich, you are left feeling a little excluded as you nibble on your dark chocolate coated coffee beans, or something similar!