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Happy 1st birthday Allergen Law

The EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation brought in the introduction of allergen rules effective from 13 December last year.As with many regulations introduced from Brussels, the new allergen rules were received with mixed views in the UK. 

On the one hand, the allergy and 'free from' community welcome this legislation as it effects a standardised way of displaying and monitoring allergy information for all pre-packed food and catering outlets.  From the perspective of the allergic customer, the legislation is fantastic news as it enables people to eat out with confidence.

On the other hand, the legislation has caused some concerns within the catering industry. Understandably, with the requirement for food business operators to conduct a comprehensive audit of every ingredient present in their dishes and then communicate these to the customers, the legislation is seen as placing unnecessary burden to caterers. It's perceived as a bureaucratic nightmare and may stiffen spontaneity, creativity and innovation in the industry.

I can appreciate why operators across the UK are worried. Over the years, the industry has seen a marked shift in customers’ expectation of dining experience with increasing sophistication in customers’ demand. Restaurateurs and other caterers need to constantly come up with innovative formats and concepts to remain competitive in the market. Menus can no longer be boring and complacent. Many operators now have a menu that changes regularly. Chefs already have enough to worry about without the need to be hampered with further regulations and an even longer rulebook.

Personally, as someone who is looking at it from both sides of the fence – my eldest daughter, Erinna suffers from nuts allergy and my husband is a chef! – I am not convinced the legislation is the be all and end all answer to deal with raising awareness of food allergy and the risks it can cause to sufferers. For one thing, the legislation has not stopped me from asking waiting on staff if a particular dish contains any nuts whenever we eat out with Erinna, whether it is spelt out on the menu or not. Whilst I totally agree that allergic diners should be able to eat out without fear of a reaction due to misinformation or the lack of it, is the legislation a costly overreaction from Brussels using a regulatory sledgehammer to crack a nut?

Whilst the debate may go on, what’s certain is that the legislation is here to stay. The good news is, the UK enforcer of the legislation i.e. primarily local food and health authorities, seem to be empathetic to operators so far. Although the legislation states that any operator found to be non-compliant to the allergen rules can be fined up to £5,000 without prior notice, feedback from restaurateurs has been encouraging in that many enforcers provide tips and guidance to operators on their visits rather than slapping them with a fine on the spot. As this is the first year the rules were brought in, the adoption method of the rules by UK’s enforcer is applaudable. Whether this attitude will continue remains to be seen. Until then, let’s embrace the new rules and make it work to our advantage. As you are not going away, we will watch you grow – Happy 1stbirthday allergen law!

For more information on how to comply with the new allergen law cost effectively and manipulating it to your operation’s advantage, please contact Michelle Anthony for a free no obligation chat on 0151 348 8400 or email ma@moco.co.uk.

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