RESTAURANT owners have welcomed new legislation which requires them to inform customers if any of the top 14 allergen ingredients have been used in their menu.
New research by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Allergy UK has found that 70 per cent of those with allergies avoid buying takeaways, due to fears about allergens and a lack of trust in the information they are given.
More than half of those with allergies (53 per cent) said they avoided eating in restaurants for the same reason.
Restaurateurs and takeaway owners say the new EU law, introduced in December, is a “positive move” which will help save more lives. On average, ten people die and 5,000 are hospitalised per year due to allergic reactions.
Teenager Shahida Shahid from Manchester died last month after a meal at burger bar Almost Famous. She is thought to have told staff at the restaurant about her food allergies before eating there, an inquest heard last month.
Police understand staff at the eatery advised the 18-year-old that a chicken dish would be appropriate for her after she flagged up her allergies. However initial tests revealed the cause of death was brain damage caused by a severe allergic reaction after the meal.
Award-winning chef Cyrus Todiwala, who runs four restaurants including Cafe Spice Namaste restaurant, said the issue of allergies was one of the biggest challenges facing the industry.
He told EE: “We have one big disability within our community; we always buy cheap.
“They buy cheap so they get something they are not aware of. They need to ask all their suppliers to immediately disclose the ingredients in the product they are buying. They have to explain to the staff what’s on the menu, and on every dish they should write allergens that could possibly be there.”
He believes the legislation is a good thing and “nothing to be scared of.” “It’s great because it makes you aware of individual needs and endorses your responsibility to the public you serve,” Todiwala said.
“Some chefs and restaurant owners have got worked up, that it’s too much work and it’s not good for us. But you come to know your product and what you’re buying.”
The 14 allergies that customers must be made aware of are gluten, fish, shellfish, egg, peanuts, other nuts, soy beans, milk, celery, mustard, sesame seed, sulphur dioxide, lupin and molluscs. Pasha Khandekar, president of the Bangladesh Caterers Association, acknowledges that the new laws are welcome, but added many restaurant owners have yet to implement the changes. “We started telling people about this a while ago but it’s not easy to do and many people don’t know what they should be doing,” he told EE.
“Most people haven’t got used to the changes, but they are slowly. What they’re doing first is saving some funds.”
The association, which represents 12,000 British- Bangladeshi restaurants across the UK, believes the government should be doing more to help owners. “It cost me nearly £5,700 to change everything,” says Khandekar, who owns three Indian restaurants in Kent and east Sussex.
“It’s very difficult, labelling everything, changing the website, printing the menu, training people. They’re not providing us any money to print our menus, to train our people. They’re not doing anything, they’re just imposing a law.”
He added: “It’s definitely a positive move and it will save people’s lives. I think the funding to train people is more important, otherwise this law is not going to work.”
Takeaways and restaurants who don’t tell customers about any allergens in their food run the risk of being taken to court and fined.
Chun-Han Chan, Food Allergy Expert at the FSA said: “With a steady rise in the number of people suffering from food allergies and intolerances in the last decade, these new measures will make it simpler for those with allergies to buy and consume food. Allergies can be fatal for some people and this is why it is vital food businesses give their customers information they can trust.
“The legislation is a huge step forward for those with allergies. We have been working to ensure that these changes will be put into place.”