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Eating Out With Allergies – What You Need to Know

Food allergies can be a matter of life and death as a number of high-profile cases have tragically shown.

Earlier this year, Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died after suffering an allergic reaction to sesame in a baguette bought from Pret a Manger at Heathrow Airport. The sandwich chain was later criticised by a coroner for inadequate signage on its food and has now agreed to labelling ingredients in full on products freshly made on site.

Most recently, two takeaway bosses were jailed over the death of Megan Lee who had a fatal allergic reaction to nuts in a takeaway meal. The prosecutor in court described a “litany of failings” in the kitchen of the Royal Spice takeaway in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, calling the teenager’s death an “accident waiting to happen.”

Both girls were just 15 and died as a result of completely avoidable mistakes. Regulations are there for a reason but not always followed and so it is vital that those with allergies know their rights.

What are my rights?

New food allergen labelling and information requirements came into force in December 2014.

They require ALL businesses serving food – from huge chain restaurants to backstreet cafes – to make sure that customers are provided with information about the use of allergenic ingredients. Or alternatively customers must be directed to where that information can be found.

Most establishments that serve food tend to direct the customer to ask a member of staff. It is therefore essential that all staff are fully trained and understand the items on the menu, what is being sold and what allergenic ingredients the products may contain.

What about when you order a takeaway?

These days you can get food delivered to your door at the touch of a button and the only real interaction you will have will be with the delivery driver. But while the regulations might be the same as when you eat in, the application has to be much more robust.

Takeaway businesses should be much clearer in meeting their food safety obligations as there is often a much weaker line of communication between the customer and business. Third party websites and apps such as Just Eat mean more and more customers are ordering takeaways online and without speaking to the business directly.

Just Eat now asks customers with allergies to contact the takeaway directly rather than simply putting the allergy details in the comments box. Whether this process is adopted widely is unknown, but I would say it should be so as to bridge the communication gap between customer and takeaway business on this critical issue.

Twinned with this process is the need for the takeaway business itself to have appropriate food safety measures in place including training staff in the importance of communicating the customer’s allergy and knowing what ingredients go into the food they are serving.

What about pre-packaged food?

Under EU regulations when food is handmade and packaged on-site, outlets are only required to put allergen warnings around the shop and are not required to put allergen information on each individual item. For any more specific advice, customers are directed to ask staff. This rule applies to any business where food is prepared on site, from large chains to small independents.


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