A Parent’s Response to the 100 Chefs’ Letter to the Daily Telegraph

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Yesterday I read something quite disappointing. 100 chefs in the UK have written to the Daily Telegraph to complain about the new EU allergy rules and how they are damaging UK restaurants. You can read the full letter here and the article here.

In December 2014, new legislation came into effect throughout the EU with regard to labelling of allergens on prepackaged foods and for the first time regarding non prepackaged food sold in restaurants, cafés, canteens, take-aways, shops etc. In the UK, it has been decided that the information must be provided in a verbal or written format. If a business is to provide the information orally they will need to provide a written note on menu or on a sign advising how to obtain the allergen information. The restaurant will have to be able to verify their allergen information and the usual way to do this is in written form with recipes etc.

The chefs and restauranteurs are saying it is a costly change, and it will stop ‘spontaneity, creativity and innovation’ in the restaurant industry. Surely they can come up with a creative way to make their dishes while following the new rules. For set menus that don’t change it shouldn’t be too difficult to work through which dishes contain which allergens and record the information. Many restaurants will have daily specials, it will be more work to have to list allergens for these, more work but not impossible. And surely it won’t hamper creativity and innovation. Does this mean because of the extra work chefs won’t create new dishes or try new things any more? I wouldn’t have thought so.

An allergy can be as mild as a rash or as severe as life threatening. It is about time that people realised this and stopped seeing allergies as something made-up or not very serious.

One of the opinions in the piece in the Telegraph reads as follows:

“Miss Miers, who won BBC cookery competition Masterchef in 2005, said: “It is a total fiasco and in my view is the responsibility of the allergee to ask, no the restaurateurs to list. I had a severe allergy for 6 years so coming at it from both sides of the fence.””

I have seen this attitude before to allergies, that it is up to the allergic person to sort out what they eat, not for the restaurants to provide the information. That’s fair enough in theory, but if the information isn’t there for staff, and the person with an allergy asks about a particular dish, how is that member of staff supposed to answer? If restaurants put it back on the person with the allergy to ask, then it still means the restaurant must know the answer in order for it to be answered correctly.I imagine the reason it has been decided that the information should be provided in written form is to avoid any possible confusion or miscommunication that could occur if information is passed verbally. I don’t see any other easier way to train staff on what is contained in the food they are preparing or serving, other than having it in written form clear for everyone. I don’t think it’s too much to ask in 2015 that we know what we are eating.

The piece in the Telegraph states that these rules have just been handed down from the EU with little debate or prior notice. The rules have been in place since December 2011 so restaurants have had 3 years to prepare for this. Each country decided for itself how to bring in the new rules and in the UK it was decided that the information had to be provided in written form.

All I want as a parent of a child with allergies is to know what is in the food on the menu on the rare occasion when we go out to eat. I can then make an informed decision on what is safe for my child to eat. The packaged food industry has been labelling and listing food allergens successfully for years. With the rise of food allergies and intolerances can the restaurant industry really afford to exclude the business of all families where one or more members has a food allergy?

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