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Food allergy rules 'help people to eat out more'

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith

18th July 2017 – A night out at a restaurant used to be fraught with dilemmas if you had food allergies or intolerances, but new research suggests problems have eased since the rules changed almost 3 years ago.

People are more confident about eating out because they can rely on information from staff and in menus about allergens, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

However, the survey found that some smaller food businesses are struggling to get on top of the new regulations.

Allergic to gluten

Over 2 million people in the UK have a food allergy. It's estimated also that 600,000 people have coeliac disease – a condition in which the intestine becomes inflamed because of an adverse reaction to gluten, typically found in food made from wheat, barley and rye.

From December 2014, new regulations changed the way that businesses selling non-prepacked food had to tell customers about ingredients that could cause allergies.

The EU legislation required any retailer selling such foods to provide customers with information as to whether any of 14 different allergens were in their products.

These regulations included food sold in restaurants, pubs and takeaways.

Information on ingredients

The FSA asked the University of Bath to assess the impact of the European legislation on eating out for people with food allergies and intolerances.

It found that, post the regulations:

  • 70% of food allergic and intolerant consumers are more confident in asking staff for allergen information
  • 56% of food allergic and intolerant consumers value staff more as a source of information
  • 44% of food allergic and intolerant consumers are more 'adventurous' about eating out
  • 67% feel allergen information on food business websites is dependable
  • 63% say talking to the chef about their allergen needs can be relied on
  • 35% report an improvement in allergen information in menus

People with food allergies and intolerances were more likely to eat out as a result of the changes, according to the FSA.

However, the study found some public mistrust of typical signs in pubs, cafes and restaurants asking clients to 'ask our staff' for allergy advice. Some saw this as "meaningless" and meant that food outlets were trying to take the easiest option to comply with the law.

Confidence about food

Heather Hancock, chairman of the Food Standards Agency, says in a statement: "Everyone should be able to trust their food. When people live with a food allergy or intolerance that can make them really ill or be life threatening, that trust becomes critical.

"This new research shows that many food businesses have a good understanding of the allergen information rules, with the result that consumers trust them and feel confident that they'll be safe when eating out."

She adds: "Some, often smaller, food businesses haven't got on top of providing allergen information yet.

"I hope this research helps them see the importance of meeting their obligations and the benefits it delivers."

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