Food and DrinkNews

Allergen Research Highlights Significant Industry Challenge Ahead Of New Legislation

Research commissioned by software provider Fourth has revealed that 68% of UK hospitality employees admit that they require more information about allergies and that almost a quarter (23%) are not confident about advising customers with serious allergies.

The statistics, which were drawn from 500 out-of-home food workers, comes ahead of the implementation of Natasha’s Law that will make it mandatory to list all ingredients on pre-packaged produce from 2021.

The importance of the allergen challenge was further reinforced by the results from CGA’s Business Confidence Survey, a quarterly survey targeted at around 130 leaders working at CEO, MD, Chairman and other senior management level roles at pub or restaurant groups, with 64% of respondents confirming that addressing allergen procedures, protocols and staff training was either a major focus, or the biggest single challenge, for their business.

When leaders were asked how confident respondents to the CGA survey were about their current procedures, worryingly, 33% stated they were only relatively confident; with 63% being either confident, or absolutely confident. Asked about their employee training frequency on allergens, 19% conducted it daily; 18% weekly; 37% monthly; and 14% bi-annually. Conclusively, 78% of respondents viewed technology as important or fundamental to tackling allergens.

Other findings from the food workers survey revealed that one in six employees claim not to receive regular training or updates about potential allergy issues; while more than half (58%) of employees said they worry when customers ask if food contains certain ingredients.

When asked which of the 14 listed allergens cause the most concern for frontline food staff, peanuts (49%) topped the list; followed by tree nuts (45%); eggs (38%); cereals (37%); milk (37%); and sesame seeds (31%). Probed about their knowledge on allergens, only 40% said they could name the top 14 allergens listed by the Food Standards Agency.

When it came to staff being faced by a customer suffering an allergic reaction, just over a third (35%) were able to cope because of staff training, while 31% were unsure what action to take and 4% admit that they panicked.

The study also polled 1,000 consumers on their thoughts towards allergens. The insight revealed that 89% of those polled believe that operators need to be more aware of allergies, with two thirds saying it is a matter of life and death.

The research also found that 73% of people were not asked if they had allergies on their last trip to a restaurant. Furthermore, 36% of people claim that ingredients and items not listed on the menu appeared on their plate.

Ben Hood, CEO, Fourth, says: “Collectively, these pieces of research – with workers, customers, and business leaders – show the urgent and pressing nature of the allergens challenge.  While there is some evidence of pockets of progress, and some excellent working practices, as an industry we must collaborate to identify the best approach, and one that gives both our people and our guests absolute confidence and a consistent experience.

“This issue is the hospitality industry’s cause celebre. It is clear, from the tragic high-profile customer incidents, the far-too-many ‘near misses’ that we are all aware of, plus this study and the inconsistent experience from venue to venue – be that a restaurant, pub, café or hotel – that action is critical.”

While Natasha’s law is due to come into force in 2021, for packaged foods, there is currently no equivalent legislation for food dishes served direct from a kitchen in hospitality venues, such as hotels, pubs and restaurants.