A quester of people with allergies have experienced reactions when eating out, a survey has revealed.
Research by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Allergy UK has found that despite improvements, one in four people with a food allergy has experienced a reaction while eating out in a restaurant or cafe since new allergen labelling legislation came in a year ago.
The survey also found that nearly one in five (19%) of those allergic reactions resulted in a hospital visit.
The EU Food Information for Consumers (FIC) Legislation came into force in December 2014, and means that food businesses have to make information on 14 allergens available to consumers. This ranges from the most common allergens, such as peanuts and gluten, to less well known triggers for allergic reactions such as mustard and celery. It is estimated that 2% of adults and 8% of children (which equates to around 28,000 adults and 30,000 children) in Northern Ireland may have a food allergy.
The survey, which was carried out to mark Allergy Awareness Week 2016, found that overall, 83% of respondents have noticed an increase in measures designed to make life easier for allergic consumers – including menus marking out allergens, and staff actively checking food information with the kitchen.
More than half (58%) of allergic consumers said that their overall experience of eating out has improved; just 6% said it has got worse. As a result, a similar proportion (52%) say they now feel more confident eating out than they did before the legislation was introduced.
However, people with allergies still report a number of problems when eating out. More than two-thirds (69%) have experienced staff not understanding the severity of an allergy, and how easily a mistake can cause a reaction. A similar number (68%) have seen staff with a lack of knowledge of what’s on the menu or in the food – including staff confusing eggs with dairy, or assuming that the customer was asking for gluten-free rather than avoiding lupin (a grain commonly used in place of wheat). Over half of allergic consumers (56%) said they have been made to feel like an inconvenience due to their allergy.
In total, around a third of those with a food allergy have experienced a reaction in the last year when eating out of the home. The vast majority of these (25%) took place in a restaurant or cafe, with 9% being a result of takeaway food. In most cases (88%) the reaction was self-treated, with 19% of reactions resulting in a hospital visit.
Sharon Gilmore, Head of Dietary Health at the FSA in NI said: “The number of people who have food allergies and intolerances has increased in the last decade and this is something businesses can’t ignore. Since the introduction of new legislation in 2014, we’re pleased to see real progress in how businesses provide information on allergens but it’s an area that still needs improvement.
“We continue to support local businesses and have produced MenuCal, a free online tool that helps food businesses manage the allergy information of the food they serve. We are working very closely with district councils and food businesses in Northern Ireland to ensure we’re providing food people can trust.”
If anyone encounters a food business not providing information on the 14 allergens, they should report it to their district council who will investigate. The survey showed that those affected are currently more likely to report it to staff in the first instance (69%) or complain on social media after the event (23%).
Food businesses have been given flexibility on how they provide allergy information. This can be communicated verbally through explanations by staff or signposted to where or how more information can be found on menus or in additional leaflets.
For more information on the EU FIC regulations please visit: www.food.gov.uk/science/allergy-intolerance/ or to keep up to date on FSA in NI news visit: facebook.co.uk/fsainni or follow us on Twitter @FSAinNI.
You can sign up for allergy alerts on the FSA in NI website at: www.food.gov.uk/about-us/subscribe.