Part 2 - New Food Labelling Laws #14allergens

Labelling EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation 14 Allergens

Back in September 2013 I wrote about the preparations companies were making for new European labelling aka Food Information for Consumers Regulation No. 1169/2011. It finally comes into force this weekend (13 December 2014). These new regulations affect the way allergens are labelled on pre-packaged and loose foods.

When I first heard about the changes I was initially critical. I think my reaction was understandable. I have been reading labels in a certain way since the day I left home (long time ago!) and here I am now having to re-learn my ways. Of course as with most things you slowly adjust and I have become familiar with recognising new labelling. Whilst I still think there are issues which need ironing out, on the whole I can see the reasoning behind the new rules. I still think that some brands need to work on how they highlight the allergens as there are occasions when the font colour or style just isn't clear enough for me. 

The new legislation also affects restaurants, deli counters, cafe, basically anywhere selling unpackaged/loose foods. These types of businesses must be able to provide allergen information to customers. Sadly, judging from social media this particular element of the regulations has not been warmly accepted by some. Many appear to be critical about the added cost to their business and the leg work involved. Lets remember the regulation did not come in over night, this has been on the table since 2011 so people have had plenty of time to prepare. On Monday, BBC Breakfast aired a segment about labelling changes and invited a conversation on their Facebook page. Sadly, the thread was full of "nasty" comments directed at people with allergies and coeliac disease. For a brief overview the conversation has people without allergies saying they are paying the price for the new regulations, people with allergies should stay at home and not eat out, allergies and gluten free are fad diets, no one had allergies 40 years ago blah blah blah. Someone who makes /sells sandwiches left the following comment

Barbara Kent - "I make sandwiches for the general public in a small store , apparently I will have to list all ingredients , this means buying some kind of posh labeling machine that we can ill afford . We will probably stop making them ,thereby stopping all the locals who rely on us for their lunch , they will have nowhere to go . They say that 2 million people have food allergies , that leaves a huge amount that don't and now we are all penalised . Is it too much to hope that people take care of themselves and leave the other 58 million to eat in peace?" (BBC Breakfast - Facebook page)

What puzzles me is why chefs/cooks (and sandwich makers) seem to be struggling with the concept. Why is it so difficult for them to be knowledgeable about the ingredients of the meals they are making? Is it really that difficult to breakdown the allergens in a ham, cheese and pickle sandwich? There is no need for posh labelling machines, just a requirement to know if a sandwich contains one or more of the 14 allergens*. The advice from the FSA is "... information on any of the 14 allergens used as ingredients will need to be provided for foods sold without packaging or wrapped on site. This information could be written down on a chalk board or chart, or provided orally by a member of staff. Where the specific allergen information is not provided upfront, clear signposting to where this information could be obtained must be provided."

As for the concern that the new regulations are penalising those who don't have allergies I am lost for words. Seriously, I don't get it, would someone like to explain how this is affecting non-allergy folks? I'm guessing most won't even notice the new changes as they go about their daily lives. I bang my head against the wall with some attitudes. I hope this is just a small portion of the population who appear to have no common sense. Saying that, these are probably the same people who make a fuss about it being their human right to eat peanuts on a flight.

As far as I'm concerned, from Saturday I am hoping to sit down in a cafe or visit a deli counter and have confidence in ordering food. No longer will wait staff be able to say they don't know the allergens and can't advise me. If you can't cater for me, I have no issue with that, there are a number of places that are capable of accommodating my dietary requirements. For the businesses that see this as an expense, I would ask them to see this as an investment for the future. Think of the number of new customers you are about to receive. People with allergies/intolerance/coeliac disease are a supportive group who rely on one another for recommendations of safe places to eat. I am confident you will be rewarded with loyal customers who will shout about you from the roof tops.

If you would like to help promote awareness about the new allergen information, join the FSA's (Food Standards Agency) Thunderclap campaign.

Sarah x

*The 14 Allergens are - cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, peanuts, soybeans, milk, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame, sulphur dioxide, lupin and molluscs