Food allergy is growing at an alarming rate – UK hospital admissions for food allergies have increased by 500% since 1990 with nearly one in five people thought to be suffering from a food allergy or intolerance. It is becoming increasingly apparent that allergies are fast developing into a modern epidemic, so it is now more important than ever to prioritise the safety of customers eating out of home.
Living with a food allergy can be very difficult, both physically and emotionally. For almost half (44%) of allergy sufferers, who live in fear that they will experience a potentially fatal reaction, going out to a restaurant for dinner or popping out to a café for lunch can be a daunting experience.
The catering industry can play an important part in counteracting this fear by demonstrating the highest levels of allergy management, to ensure both the safety of their consumers and to build confidence in dining out for those living with allergy. A Consumer Eating Habits Survey revealed that 99% of allergy sufferers said that they were more likely to return to a restaurant if they felt that the food outlet was up to date with allergy/intolerance knowledge.
Since the European Food Information to Consumer Regulations (FIC) came in to force in December 2014, information about any of the top 14 food allergens must be available to customers with a food allergy. It became a legal requirement for both manufacturers and catering outlets to clearly label food with information on allergen contents. For manufacturers, the top 14 allergens must be listed in a bold font or alternate colour and be easily identifiable in the ingredients list; caterers must comply by providing allergen information to customers on request. It is imperative for the safety of people with allergies that these regulations are observed in the interests of both the customer and the caterer.
The top 14 allergens, which are the most common dietary allergens to cause severe reaction, include: peanuts, tree nuts (e.g. walnut, almond, hazelnut, Brazil, pistachio, cashew, macadamia and pecan) egg, shellfish, cereals containing gluten, namely: wheat (such as spelt and Khorasan wheat), soy beans, milk, celery (including celeriac), mustard, sesame, sulphur dioxide/sulphites (where added and at a level above 10mg/kg in the finished product), lupin (which includes lupin seeds and flour and can be found in types of bread, pastries and pasta), molluscs (like clams, mussels, whelks, oysters, snails and squid). However, any food has the potential to cause a severe reaction.
Allergy Aware Scheme
When the European Food Information Regulations came into force, Allergy UK took the opportunity to improve eating out for two million people in the UK who live with food allergies. At the time, many of the calls received by the busy Allergy UK helpline were from caterers seeking advice about what the new regulations meant for their business.
Allergy UK’s 20 years of product endorsement experience with the Seal of Approval, which provides members of the public with guidance when purchasing products, provided a strong background for the expansion of its offering and the Allergy Aware Scheme was launched in July 2015. The scheme aims to put peace of mind on the menu for people with a food allergy eating out of home. With around 4,800 hospital admissions a year due to allergic reactions to food, safety for customers is more important than ever before. Admissions for anaphylaxis (severe allergy) have increased by 615% in 20 years, so it is no surprise that 92% of those with severe allergies worry about eating out.
This Scheme provides consumers with confidence that catering establishments are recognised by Allergy UK for their robust front to back of house allergy processes and procedures. It recognises responsible catering outlets that have been independently audited and where staff have undergone detailed allergy training. The Scheme allows responsible catering outlets to show their customers they not only take allergens seriously but provide an exceptional service for the allergic community.
The scheme provides guidance, information and an in-depth site audit by an independent food safety expert, which, if passed, affirms that the outlet observes best practice in allergy management.
The Allergy Aware Scheme audit scores catering outlets on their staff training, suppliers, purchase and delivery of orders, storage of goods, handling and preparation, as well as order taking and front of house practices.
All outlets applying to join the Scheme are required to sign up to the Allergy Aware Scheme Charter to ensure best practice and compliance. Interested businesses can join the Scheme initially for a twelve month period, which is subject to renewal on an annual basis.
The Allergy Aware outlets are awarded a certificate and window sticker, along with a place on Allergy UK’s website, which attracts more than 156,000 visitors per month. Other benefits include the opportunity to reach out to a loyal customer base.
The scheme aims to put peace of mind on the menu for people with a food allergy eating out of home’
Progress to date
Since its launch in the summer of 2015, the Allergy Aware Scheme has generated a large amount of interest from independent hotels, cafes, restaurant groups and holiday companies. Current Allergy Aware Scheme outlets include Rainforest Café in London, Ell Castle Catering (operated by Hampshire County Council Catering Services) and Soho based ice cream parlour, Yorica. There are plans to develop models of the Scheme for healthcare and education catering sectors in the future.
Allergy UK is working with awarding organisations Highfield Awarding Body for Compliance (HABC), Food and Drink Qualifications (FDQ) and The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) to deliver Ofqual regulated food allergy training to caterers. The Food Standards Agency online allergy training (which is free of charge) is also accepted as a form of training for applicants to the Scheme.
The Allergy Aware Scheme has been established to help caterers provide an excellent dining out experience for the increasing number of customers that have a food allergy.
Ninety two percent of allergy suffers questioned would feel more confident eating out at an Allergy Aware Scheme restaurant.
Allergies are significantly increasing year on year. In a survey in March 2016, 58% of allergy sufferers said they had seen an improvement in their experience of eating out since December 2015 but there is more work to be done.