New EU food allergy rules are a positive change
by FoodMaestro | 29 June 2015
The EU food labelling regulations, which came into force in December 2014, have caused some consternation within the catering industry. Restaurateurs, event caterers, cafe owners and publicans are amongst those feeling most aggrieved. Concern has been so high, that 100 prominent chefs put their name to a letter sent to the Daily Telegraph, warning of the damaging impact it was having.
“As chefs, restaurateurs, hoteliers and caterers, we are concerned about the bureaucratic nightmare the recent EU allergen regulations have imposed on our businesses,” the letter read.
What does it mean?
The new regulations identify a list of 14 allergens that must be given greater prominence on food labelling. This means a significant change in the way that allergens must be displayed on food packaging, and on food and drink menus.
The issue for food businesses in the hospitality industry is that menus are subject to change, ingredients may alter, and small companies in this sector are run on tight margins. Chefs often work long hours, so managing new food allergen labelling requirements creates an unwelcome extra responsibility on them.
In addition, some of these allergens are tricky to identify. For example, one is 'cereals containing gluten' – and that includes wheat (and variations of), rye, barley, oats, or their 'hybridised strains'. Another is sulphur dioxide and sulphites, a common food preservative also found in wine.
Why it is a positive step
The fact that the UK is becoming more allergy-friendly can only be a good thing for allergy sufferers. And if the new regulations provide greater confidence when eating in restaurants and pubs, surely such businesses can benefit in the long run?
Let's not forget, this is all part of a wider trend. All major supermarkets now offer 'free-from' aisles. Also, consider the latest developments at health food chain Holland & Barrett. It has begun expanding its business operation by opening the first of 50 free-from concept stores, which are planned for the next two years.
According to Mintel, the UK's free-from category doubled in market value between 2009 and 2014, and is forecast to grow by another 50 per cent by 2019. By that time it will have become a £550m industry!
How can businesses manage and identify allergens quickly and easily?
We believe that online technology has a crucial role to play. Imagine if businesses were able to check allergy information about a particular product or ingredient, quickly and easily online. And then store and manage menus online so that they have a growing, easily accessible database on all their foodstuffs.
Such reliable on-hand technology will make the process of creating and updating menus with relevant allergy information that much easier. This is why at FoodMaestro we are in the process of developing a solution, which performs this function.
With this kind of technology, the burden of new food labelling regulations can be turned into an opportunity. Businesses have the chance reassure customers with food allergies that eating out no longer needs to feel like a burden on them.
By successfully adapting to the new food allergy rules, there's little doubt that on-site caterers can become one of the major beneficiaries and, additionally, the UK is on its way to becoming more allergy friendly!