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 Ireland, it has been decided that the information must be provided in a written format. You can read the national legislation published by the Department of Health here.
The Low Down:
Restaurants are now required to have allergen information either displayed or available on request. This applies to the 14 allergens as follows: Cereals containing gluten, Crustaceans, Eggs, Fish, Peanuts, Soybeans, Milk (including lactose), Nuts, Celery, Mustard, Sesame seeds, Sulphur dioxide and sulphites, Lupin and Molluscs. There is no requirement to make available information on any other allergens outside these 14, but restaurants may provide this voluntarily.
In plain English – if you are eating out and have an allergy, mention it to the server and they should provide you with a menu listing which dishes have any of the above 14 allergens. This is the same rule whether you are at a deli counter in your local petrol station or in a fine dining establishment.
In reality, what has changed?
I have noticed a big change in some restaurants even before the 13th December, it was clear that preparations were being made for this change. I could tell that some restaurants had been recently trained on allergens, so different were their ‘can do’ attitudes when allergies were explained. This was one or two local restaurants where I would’ve eaten a few times over the last year.
Since December we have eaten out with the boys twice. One good experience, one bad. We were
at a wedding in a Knockranny House Hotel recently and my sister was with us who is also dairy free. Both the adult and children’s menus and service were excellent with suitable dairy free alternatives for each course. The second time we ate out with the boys recently was the polar opposite experience. We were in the Clarion Hotel in Limerick, the staff was unhelpful and showed a complete lack of understanding. There was no written or clear verbal information on allergens. One waiter said the ‘chicken goujons had no milk, they were made with gluten and such things’. It didn’t inspire me with confidence that he knew what he was talking about.
On a trip to McDonald’s drive through I asked if they had allergen information and I was provided with this lovely page outlining the allergen information on all their usual menu, and with a note to ask staff it is a limited edition item. This is perfect, just what a parent of children with allergies wants. I hope to see much more of this in the future.
McDonalds Allergen Information
I asked some of the dairy free community for their experiences eating out since December here’s what some of them had to say.
Dawn, whose son is allergic to milk, eggs, hazelnuts and kiwis says:
‘I want to recommend The Lodge at Ashford castle. We were at a Christening meal there yesterday and they were great dealing with my sons allergies. He had lovely soup, simple enough sausages and skinny fries and then a really lovely sorbet dessert.’
Maire, who’s toddler is allergic to dairy, soy, nuts, eggs and coconut says:
‘There have been little to no improvements, we spent a week ringing around restaurants in Dublin over Christmas looking for somewhere to have dinner for a special occasion and the only ones that said they had anything he could have were ones that already had an allergen file available before the legislation came in (ie fast food places!). That particular time we ended up at Pygmalion and the staff assured us the only thing safe to eat for our multi allergy toddler was chips, so we gave in and got them. They came out drizzled in butter. They eventually brought out fresh chips with no butter. For nut allergies the legislation has made no difference as nowhere is willing to risk saying they have safe foods and no amount of legislation will change that as far as I can see’.
‘The Maldron hotel in Galway has an excellent menu with everything clearly identified.’
‘On a recent trip to Burger King (not great I know, but it was packed everywhere else) I asked to see the Allergy info. It was produced which was great but there was a ‘?’ mark over the chicken nuggets, the only thing on the menu you would maybe give to a child to eat, so we left ! Generally, local restaurants here are very helpful but there are no allergy sheets. I generally stick to plain pasta for him and some sausages when we are out, he is only 17 months so its not a huge biggy yet.’
In conclusion, I don’t know if much has changed. Yet. The restaurants that always took allergens seriously and were helpful are still as helpful as ever, some restaurants are implementing the new measures and others are still the same as they ever were. I am hopeful that restaurants will learn more about the allergens that may be in their food and be able to convey this knowledge in an easy to access fashion. This will make a huge difference to anyone eating out free from. I was involved in judging the inaugural Free From Eating Out Awards in 2014 and even among restaurants which cater for specific allergy free diets there are huge differences in how restaurants deal with allergens. It is up to each restaurant now to be a little creative and come up with their own (safe) way of dealing with and communicating allergens.
Over to you – Is it easier to eat out with allergies since December?
I would love to hear how you’ve got on if you’ve eaten out since December 2014?
If it’s a restaurant you’ve eaten in before, have you noticed any difference in how they dealt with your allergy?
Were staff happy to oblige or did you feel you were making a fuss?
How did they explain which foods contained allergens, did you receive a special menu or was it verbally?