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FreeFrom and Allergen Legislation

New regulations on food labelling that require allergens such as peanuts and shellfish to be clearly signposted on food (for full list see page 25) were published in December 2011 – and manufacturers have been given until December 2014 to comply with their provisions.

EU-wide legislation will affect YOU

Many foodservice establishments – from cafés to restaurants, catering businesses and mobile vans – appear to be unaware that the regulations also apply to them. Even when they are serving up food that has been removed from its packaging, staff should be ready to answer questions on ingredients and about which allergens may be present.

Regulation (EU) No.1169/2011 specifically requires 14 separate allergens to be highlighted in ingredients lists and is part of a raft of new measures aimed at making sure consumers know exactly what their food contains.

Act now before it is too late

Solicitor Nikki Hutchins, an expert in food safety regulations at law firm Blake Lapthorn (www.bllaw.co.uk), warns that any foodservice business failing to comply will leave themselves vulnerable to legal action, and the possibility of a fine in the criminal courts.

“This legislation specifically requires allergens to be highlighted in ingredients lists on food packaging – but restaurants, cafés and takeways may not know that the new rules also carry huge implications for any business that serves food to its customers as they also apply to food served without packaging,” explains Hutchins.

“Businesses should always be ready for the possibility that they may be inspected by their local Environmental Health Officers – and failure to comply could carry a fine of up to £5000 per offence. Perhaps more worryingly, operators leave themselves open to legal action if they serve up food containing allergens to an allergy sufferer who has asked for information about ingredients and has ordered in reliance of incorrect information.

“Business owners who are unsure about the rules and how they might be affected should make sure they take advice well before they begin to be enforced in December to ensure they are compliant with the new regulations.”

Technology here to help

“Although the legislation doesn’t come into force until December, work must start now to ensure businesses are prepared for the inevitable changes,” advises Ben Hood, CEO, Fourth Hospitality (www.fourth.com). “The challenge for operators is to navigate the implementation of this legislation – which we see as one of the key hurdles facing hospitality businesses this year – with as little complication and expense as possible.

“It has obvious implications on the freedom of head chefs to create limited-period ‘specials’ dishes or a fresh menu that changes daily, or regularly, with boards potentially required to carry precise information regarding dish contents. There is also a clear expectation that all staff will be able to answer questions regarding allergen and nutrition enquiries, or be able to provide customers with more information.

“The clarity of information both on menus and chalkboards, and provided by staff is key. The associated costs are potentially substantial, given that the legislation will require operators to invest money, time and resource into (for example) due diligence with suppliers, staff training, creating in-venue signs, changing kitchen and till systems, and menu reprints among other factors.

“It is clear that technology in a wider sense has a keen role to play. Low-cost software is available, such as StarChef, that will do the heavy lifting in calculating nutritional values and the presence of allergens in dishes and dish components.”

StarChef is a web-based system that gives everyone – from purchasers to chefs and waiters – access to real-time ingredient, recipe and menu information. Once the ingredients and measure used for each recipe are keyed in, the system automatically calculates the cost and gross profit for each recipe, helping businesses set the right prices for their dish. In addition, StarChef automatically calculates the nutritional value of recipes and records the presence of ingredients – including the 14 listed in the new legislation – to which people may be intolerant or allergic.

“Products like StarChef are part of the technological revolution happening in restaurants and foodservice environments,” concludes Hood. “Technology is increasingly used in both front and back of house – to improve the guest experience, shorten lead times between food being ordered and served, and to improve kitchen operations and dish creation.”

From 13 December 2014, information on the following must be available for customers on request

  • Cereals containing gluten
  • Crustaceans
  • Molluscs
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Nuts
  • Soybeans
  • Milk
  • Celery
  • Mustard
  • Sesame
  • Lupin
  • Sulphur dioxide at levels above 10mg/kg

FreeFrom Food Awards

Thirty years ago Michelle Berriedale-Johnson could have been forgiven for thinking that she was the lone David against the Goliath of the foodservice industry as she embarked on a mission to raise people’s awareness of food allergies. Today this indomitable woman tirelessly continues her work in a very different arena where not only are allergies widely understood, but many menus now contain freefrom items both for those who require them and others who now elect to eat freefrom as a lifestyle choice.

In an ever-growing sector (the ‘freefrom’ food market is predicted to top the half billion pound mark by 2017), the FreeFrom Food Awards (organised by Michelle and her team) remain the industry’s only award to celebrate excellence and innovation in the field. The 2014 Awards held on 25 March included a raft of categories including Breads, Pasta & Pizza, Food To Go, Foods Designed for Foodservice, Ready Meals, Cakes and even Gluten-Free Beers.

“There were so many excellent products, and right across the food spectrum from staples to exotica,” comments Michelle. “From freefrom supermarket bread to raw maca powder and coconut frozen yogurt to gluten-free beer brewed from sorghum – there are few areas of the food world where ‘freefrom’ has not now penetrated.”

The overall winner of the FreeFrom Food Awards 2014 was Focaccia Per Tutti – a gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, soya-free Italian Focaccia.

A full list of this year’s FreeFrom winners can be found at Free From Food Awards

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