More than 100 top chefs have, apparently, written to the Daily Telegraph warning that the new EU allergen regulations are going to destroy ‘spontaneity, creativity and innovation’ in the restaurant trade because, according to the Telegraph:
The EU allergens regulations that came into force in December require caterers and restaurant owners to conduct a comprehensive audit of every ingredient present within their dishes, which must then be displayed on menus and packaging.
The regulations mean that it is no longer be acceptable for cafes and wine bars to state on menus they do not know if allergens are present, or that they “could” be present. Instead they will have to label any food clearly with a precise breakdown of the allergens they contain. Where it is not obvious from the ingredient the name of the allergen will be stated next to it.
Well, if the chefs are not better informed than the Telegraph, then they might have some grounds for a bit of moaning…. But, no, food service outlets do not ‘have to display allergens on menus….. and label any food with the precise background of any allergens that they contain’. What they do need to do is to know about any allergens that their food may contain and, if they are asked, be able to provide guests with accurate information about them.
But hang on… Don’t chefs know what they put in their dishes anyhow? How else do they create or reproduce a recipe, or even run a kitchen? So what it is the big deal?
The only thing that they are being asked to do is to learn a little more about the ingredients that they use e.g. whether any of these ingredients are one of the 14 major allergens – so that, if they are asked, they can tell an allergic customer whether or not one of those allergens might be in the dish that they are thinking of ordering.
OK, so that may mean that if they have been asked to prepare a dairy-free dish for a customer they have to actually think before slapping a dollop of butter on the veg or cream on the fruit salad but that is scarcely hurting their ‘spontaneity, creativity and innovation’!
The new regulations are a big thing for the food service industry but not because they are in themselves a ‘big thing’ – all they are requiring outlets to do is to be a little bit more knowledgeable about their ingredients. They are a ‘big thing’ because the food service industry knows and understands very little about food allergy and sensitivity and therefore is scared rigid of it. All too many chefs and food service outlets genuinely believe that food allergy is only about nuts and that, post regulations, they risk being sued if they cannot provide all their customers with guaranteed allergen-free meals. This is not what it is about…
The regulations do not require any outlet to provide allergen-free food. Nor do they require any outlet to label every dish with all the allergens that it might contain. All they actually require is for the outlet to be able to tell the customer, accurately, what is in the dish that they want to order, and to be able to back that information up with some sort of written documentation (a recipe) if required.
If the outlet wants to go further and provide specifically allergen free dishes then that is their choice – there is no obligation for them to do so – although obviously, those of us in allergen world hope that an increasing number of them will wish to do this.
So please, Daily Telegraph – get your information right and help educate the chefs, who obviously have not understood what they are being are asked to do. Do not just parrot doom and propagate the myth!