With the introduction of the Food Information for Consumers (FIC) Regulations 1169/2011 last December, the Food Allergy Training Consultancy (FATC) wanted to find out if it had made a difference to the freefrom customer when dining out. Do they feel safer?
Do the FIC regulations make them more confident to dine out now that caterers had to declare the 14 major allergens within their menus? So – FATC conducted a survey with 100 freefrom consumers, with ages ranging from under 16s to over 50 years of age. The respondents included 23 with food allergies, 61 coeliac disease and 32 with food intolerance.
The answer? 27% of respondents stated it had made a difference to the frequency of their eating out habits, and the data showed there was an increase of 54% in those who eat out at least once a week.
However, much remains to be done (see below), and foodservice businesses should read on and take action – or risk being the business that causes a tragedy, with all the resulting consequences. In the words of caroline Benjamin of FATC:
“Let’s just hope it doesn’t take a tragedy for businesses to sit up and take notice of their obligations under the new regulations.”
But – although 70% of freefrom customers informed venues on arrival, 64% had to request allergy information. When receiving the allergen information 36% found it confusing and difficult to understand, and 35% spotted errors and did not feel confident in eating at these venues.
Overall only 10% of respondents felt they had received positive dining out experiences since the FIC was introduced and felt more confident when dining out.
Respondents were asked to rate their experience of staff knowledge on allergens, coeliac disease and intolerances in large chains compared to small independent restaurants. Chains fared well at providing average quality information, with 46% of respondent’s vs 36% in smaller businesses. However, smaller businesses were seen to be ahead at providing excellent – 10% vs 2% and good 27% vs 24% information.
When asked about staff knowledge on cross contamination, larger chains fared worse with 13% versus small independents at 27% who rated good.
Overall knowledge was still low considering the training which is apparently taking place.
Specific Dietary request
A number of true and false questions were asked which were directed specifically to the three most common allergen consumers
- Coeliac disease, wheat allergy, wheat or gluten intolerance
- Milk allergy, lactose or milk intolerance
- Nut allergy
Here is a snapshot of the responses:
61% of those questioned felt that although food businesses offered a gluten free menu, their staff did not have extensive knowledge of their requirements and did not understand cross contamination.
Only 40% of respondents felt safe when eating in a large restaurant or hotel chain, compared with 50% who believed that smaller individual businesses offered a greater range and had more knowledge on allergen information. Overall, only 39% of those questioned felt safer since the regulations were introduced last year.
24% of those questioned felt that food businesses did not understand dairy free, with 51% stating they thought eggs were classed within a dairy allergy! Finding a suitable starter and dessert option was an issue for those with a dairy free diet. 47% could not find a suitable starter and a staggering 61% could not find a dessert choice suitable for their diet.
A YouGov report from September 2014 found that 8% of the population, that’s 12% of UK households, believe they have a dairy intolerance or have a dairy allergy. Whilst only 7% of the population, 10% of UK households, had an issue with wheat or gluten. But caterers are still failing to provide for the dairy (milk) free customer.
This ‘special’ dietary requirement is growing. Lactose intolerance in adulthood is most prevalent in people of East Asian descent, affecting more than 90 percent of adults in some of these communities. Lactose intolerance is also very common in people of West African, Arab, Jewish, Greek, and Italian descent.
To enable the FreeFrom community to eat out with confidence, food service businesses need to identify and take steps to ensure that allergy awareness training requirements are fulfilled for all employees. Businesses need to ensure that an induction process is in place which is suitable for all learning styles and abilities.
Caroline Benjamin, founder of the Food Allergy Training Consultancy who conducted the survey, stated:
“The results from the survey are not very surprising to those in the freefrom community: currently food business are not paying attention to detail when managing the food allergy customer. Training is of a bare minimum or is being overlooked. With allergen charts bearing very little resemblance to the composition of the dish. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take a tragedy for businesses to sit up and take notice of their obligations under the new regulations.”
To view more information on the full report and see comments posted by the respondents please visit the website here.
Food Allergy Training Consultancy will be at attending the Food Matters Live event at Excel from 17 – 19 November, (stand 225) where they will be launching their Level 1 induction tools including an ELearning module and induction booklet which can be used in conjunction with the ELearning or as an alternative independent or 1:1 learning style.