Chief Executive of the Anaphylaxis Campaign Lynne Regent appeared today in the first episode of the new series of BBC One’s Rip Off Britain Food which had a special focus on eating out with food allergy.
The programme conducted an undercover investigation in 30 eating establishments in the Manchester and Leeds area, posing as a customer with celery allergy, to assess whether the establishments were complying with laws about allergies and food.
By law, food businesses selling catered food are required to provide information on 14 major allergens, either in writing and/or verbally. Systems should also be in place to ensure that, if requested, the information given verbally is supported in a recorded form to ensure consistency and accuracy.
Though most of the eating establishments did comply with the law, a significant minority were shown to have poor practices. Lynne Regent, Chief Executive of the Anaphylaxis Campaign, was given the opportunity to review some of the footage, and said about the experience:
“In general, things have got so much better for people living with food allergy since the change in law in 2014, but we know that that there is still a long way to go in improving the situation. I was pleased to hear that in most places the programme visited, the catering staff were compliant with the law. However, the undercover footage that I saw demonstrated that in some eating establishments the information provided to customers living with food allergy was unclear or contradictory which does not provide reassurance and, in some cases, would be illegal.
Our advice to people living with food allergy is to first, ask clear questions of staff when you eat out and, if you do receive information which is unclear or unsafe – do not eat there, make a record of what you experienced and report it to your local authority.
It is only by working together to report unsafe practices that we can work towards a safer future for people living at risk of severe allergic reactions. Your local trading standards or environmental health team have the power to follow up with the establishment to ensure they are complying with the law, and to enforce changes if this is demonstrated not to be the case.”
The episode also featured interviews with a mother whose 10-year-old son has a milk allergy, a woman who developed an app after her husband had a reaction whilst on holiday and a moving interview with the parents of Amy May Shead, who experienced a severe allergic reaction whilst in a restaurant in Budapest in 2014 and is still living with the tragic consequences.
Advice for people living with food allergy
Under EU law, food businesses selling catered food are required to provide information on 14 major allergens, either in writing and/or verbally. If information is provided verbally, the food business will need to ensure that there is some sort of written signage that is clearly visible, to indicate that allergen information is available from a member of staff. Systems should also be in place to ensure that, if requested, the information given verbally is supported in a recorded form to ensure consistency and accuracy.
If you have an allergy which is not to one of the 14 major food allergens identified under EU law, it is still an offence under UK law to sell ‘any food which is not of the nature, substance or quality demanded by the purchaser’.
Food businesses aren’t obliged by law to serve you or to sell you anything if they don’t want to, so it is possible that they may say they are unable to provide any safe food for you.
You can find out more in our guide to eating out here.
If your dish contains your allergen, after the food business confirmed it did not contain it, the food business has broken the law. Report the incident to your local authority. They can carry out an investigation to what went wrong and ensure allergen management is improved.
The Food Standards Agency has a tool where you can enter the name and location of a business to report a food problem to the business’s local authority which you can find on their website here.
You can also contact our helpline and information team at [email protected] or call 01252 542 029 for support between Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm.
Advice for the catering industry
We believe every member of your team needs some understanding of food allergy and its possible consequences and this should be incorporated into your staff training. Members of staff, who serve meals to customers, need to be able to offer accurate information about ingredients. If they are unsure of what is in a particular meal, there should be a procedure in place for finding out. There should be a designated person on duty during each shift that is able to answer questions about ingredients.
We have practical advice for the catering industry on our website here.
We are the only UK wide charity solely focused on supporting people at risk of severe allergic reactions. We can provide you with tailored advice through our corporate membership scheme, expert-led conference events and national helpline, to support you to protect your customers. We receive no government funding, so your corporate membership is also essential to help us best support people who live with life threatening allergies.
Find out more about becoming a corporate member on our website here.