Browse Tag by Catering for multiple food intolerance and allergies
Health

Allergen labelling rules mean people with food allergies and intolerances are more confident about eating out, says FSA

Since the introduction of allergen information rules in 2014, are people with food allergies and intolerances more confident about eating out?

Are people with food allergies and intolerances more confident about eating out - A Free From Life

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!

Reviews

Catering for multiple food intolerances and allergies at Wagamama

Restaurants should look to Wagamama as an example of how to cater properly for those with multiple food intolerances or allergies.

Yes I know, I know, I moan a lot about how difficult it is to eat out when you have multiple food intolerances or allergies, but I’ll keep on moaning until the message gets through. And it seems that some people might actually be listening, well the manager at Wagamama Canterbury, at least. He contacted me to invite me over:

‘We’d like to show you how well we cater for people with food allergies and intolerances,’ he said.

I liked them already. With a confidence that what they’re doing is a positive thing, they were keen to prove to me that not all food service operations are equal in their approach.

‘I’m in,’ I said, given that I don’t go to Wagamamas, so had no idea what they offer.

As I avoid nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, potatoes) and no longer eat dairy, I wondered how I would get on. My friend who came with me doesn’t eat gluten, so between us, I expected we were going to be a challenge. Not so for manager Lloyd, who sat down with us and went through the entire menu.

Wagamama, like most restaurants, has a complete breakdown of every dish offered. They have one version for the customers and another, more detailed version for the management. There were several positives I’d like to point out that make Wagamama stand out against other restaurants:

  • The manager is the only person who takes with and deals with your order.

Lloyd, as I said, went through everything with us, perhaps in more detail than he might if we hadn’t have been there for this specific purpose. Either way, nothing was a problem and the reason for this is Wagamama’s flexibility when it comes to their dishes. There are several alternative options to their menu items, which means if you can’t eat one of the ingredients (for example, noodles in the Ramen because they contain gluten), they will swap them for something else (in this example, rice noodles).

A 'Free-From' Life
Image courtesy of Wagamama

It’s not enough to give a customer an allergen menu and expect that it’s enough.

My pet hate about eating out is that restaurants give you an enormous allergen menu detailing all their dishes and once you go through it, you find you can’t actually eat anything. Thankfully, Wagamama’s recognise this and make every effort to be flexible with their dishes.

  • The manager marks your place with your specific food avoidance item(s), so there is no mix up when it’s brought to the table.

This is another positive, because even though the manager is the only one dealing with the order, it’s still important, if not life-saving for some, to make sure the right order is given to the right person. With serious allergies, you can’t afford to mess this up.

  • They have a separate gluten free menu.

This is in addition to the full allergen menu and includes dishes that are specifically gluten free. Lloyd checked to make sure what we wanted to order was also dairy free, again this double, triple checking of everything shows how seriously they take things and also the level of training the staff have received.

A 'Free-From' Life
Image courtesy of Wagamama
  • The food is prepared in a dedicated area with a dedicated chef.

This I was very impressed with. You can see the food preparation area at Wagamama, as it’s completely open and with one specific area kept for preparing special orders, it’s reassuring. Lloyd explained we were likely to get our food in waves rather than all at once. This is because each order is prepared separately, with the surfaces being thoroughly wiped down between each one. Again, this shows a deep level of understanding and commitment to customer safety.

My overall impression of Wagamama was extremely positive and I would be happy to recommend it to anyone with multiple food intolerances or allergies. You feel looked after there and equally as important, are never made to feel as though you’re being awkward (we’ve all been there with this haven’t we?). We’re not a generation of overly paranoid individuals, we’re more educated about the food we eat and realise how ill it can make us. Perhaps in the past we just got on with it, ignoring the stomach pains and associated problems, but not anymore and it’s not just gluten that we’re avoiding.

Food service providers, if you’re listening, take a tip from Wagamama’s and wake up to what your customers need.

My one request, as I finish this review, is can you get more creative with some dairy free desserts? If there’s one thing anyone dairy free really misses out on, it’s this.