Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Why restaurateurs need to stop being nuts

Today, I was horrified to hear that 100 restaurateurs have signed a letter to try and get the Food Information for Consumers legislation changed.

Reproduced from the BBC Good Food Website

Here is what the FIC means for restaurateurs.

If someone comes into your restaurant, you need to be able to tell them (either in person, or on the menu, in a leaflet or any other reasonable way) whether the food they eat is safe for them.  This is a great change for Food allergic consumers.

And yes, I mean safe.  I have a friend who will die if you feed her something with peanuts in.  If she comes into your restaurant and asks you whether there are nuts present in a dish, you really should be able to answer the question.  It's not hard and if you're worried about cross contamination, tell her what your concerns are so she can decide but I would really challenge you that if you are that concerned about your cleaning and that concerned you cannot avoid cross contaminating, you need to try harder.  You need to make sure you're better at it not just to avoid allergen contamination but if you can't clean properly, that's somewhat fundamental.

For all the people who signed that request, here is what I tell you, I am finding out what establishments you run and I'm eating elsewhere.

This is why.  My son has a nut allergy.  He is allergic to brazil nuts.  The thing is, no-one knows what his next reaction will be like.  It could put him in hospital, it could kill him.  You have no idea how that feels as his mother.  Is it really that hard for restaurateurs to follow a system based on HACCP (which is basically preventing illness and has been law for some time)?  Is it really that hard for restaurateurs to do what manufacturers have been doing for over 10 years?  You had notice of this law coming in, you had years to prepare.  If you failed to prepare, that is your failure, don't put my son's life at risk because you are lazy.

Sorry.  I don't get angry often but at this point, I think, get over yourself.  It really isn't that hard.  I can show you how if you want.  My son's nursery manages it, my son's school manages it and they're on very tight budgets; having a Michelin star does not make you exempt.  I am happy to come in and explain methods on how allergen control can be achieved.  Don't pretend it can't be done.  The cheapest ready meal in the supermarket can do it, surely, their controls cannot be better than the best restaurants?

There is also a fundamental misconception of the letter:

“It is a total fiasco and in my view is the responsibility of the allergee to ask, no the restaurateurs to list."

Still perfectly legal to have people ask actually, but your staff does need to know, that is all.  It doesn't need to be in writing if you chose not to do it that way (but I would personally).  All you need to do is make it clear that people need to ask then ensure your team have the information.  Easy.  No difficulty at all.  So if you're going to complain, another tip is to actually read the legislation.

My last word is on this additional point:

 "These new rules on the labelling of allergens are a bureaucratic nightmare that will inflict significant damage on the catering industry"

So when my friend was in intensive care and had CPR last year because someone gave her a food they said didn't contain nuts (but actually did), that's ok?  That's just a bureaucratic nightmare?  Risking someone's life is bureaucracy?

After reading the responses of all of this, turns out it was an anti EU PR stunt.  (Well done chefs who backed that.)  It seems that UKIP have a history of trying to overturn this legislation.  They are also seemingly completely unaware of what the legislation says.  Margot Parker was reported in the Express as saying:

"This further outbreak of EU silliness illustrates perfectly that multi-national corporations have the financial muscle to change EU legislation through lobbying while smaller businesses, such as restaurant owners, are hampered or penalised by EU hyper-regulation.
"Surely the person with an allergy at a restaurant could ask about the menu rather than EU regulations pushing up admin costs for the business owner and the price for every consumer?  
"Personally, I am allergic to EU regulations and that is why I voted against them at every opportunity.  
"UKIP is a great believer is small businesses and we vote against EU legislation like this at the European Parliament every week."

Now I'm going to speak slowly as despite being present (and voting against the legislation), the MEP appears to be unaware of the detail.  Actually, last year, all companies packing prepacked foods (large and small) changed all of their packaging.  This was a nightmare and added cost but made it much simpler for food allergic consumers to see what allergens are present.

All food manufacturing businesses did it, this was part of the EU law and we all did it, without complaining, small, large, whatever, we did it and I didn't see UKIP making a single comment then.

The second thing and I'm going to write it slowly again, just so our MEP understands:

You.  Don't.  Have.  To.  Write.  Allergens.  On.  Your.  Menu.

You could ask people to ask your staff.  That is all you need to do.

Oh and if you, like me, would rather avoid these establishments, the full list of signatories opposing the EU Food information regulation for consumers is here.

Update:  My son has happily had his diagnosis reduced to brazil nuts only and we're being encouraged to eat nuts (apart from Brazils) in the home to avoid him developing other allergies.  This is why I've started to include nuts again in my diet and you will start to see more nut recipes on my blog.  We still, for now, have to avoid all nuts when eating out due to attitudes like the above so it's still vital for me to be able to say "my son cannot eat nuts" and be listened to in restaurants.

Update again:  The last few weeks have been eventful.  My son and I went to a cafe and I asked the following question.
"My son has a nut allergy, are there any foods he should avoid?"
Looks at coffee and walnut cake.  "Well that's got nuts in."
"Anything else?"
"It doesn't look like they have nuts in."
"Can you check?"

"Er no.  I don't know how I'd check."

So I did what any reasonable annoyed parent of an allergenic child should do and contacted the cafe.  They didn't take it seriously so I contacted the environmental health department.  This resulted in a friend of the owner berating me on Facebook, in public.  Anyway, the Environmental Health Department found issues with their training and have got the cafe to take some action.  Great so at least in future, other allergenic consumers might be protected (I won't be eating there though.)

Fast forward a couple more weeks and my friend I talk about above has anaphylaxis in front of me.  She's ok fortunately and we're just trying to work out what triggered it but had she been alone, she would have died.

I tell you this cafes, restaurants... if you think it's too much bother ensuring allergens don't hurt your customers, I urge you to see someone who has collapsed to the floor because that happened.  It is life changing.


  1. Thank you for information, I had no idea!!

    1. No problem. Until you have a family member with an allergy, it's not something you would probably know about.

  2. When you see someone close to you nearly die through an allergic reaction, and you work in an industry that (mostly but not always) works hard to mitigate the risks posed by allergens, it makes you even more annoyed when people don't understand or sometime blatantly overlook these potential killers. Education is key, as is often the case. Maybe something like the Safe Drive Stay Alive campaign aimed at teenagers as they're about to start driving would make food handlers (in the widest sense) sit up and take notice? Showing hard hitting pictures of people suffering an anaphylactic shock or worse dying through consuming unseen allergens would certainly make them sit up and take notice.

    1. Knowing my friend had to have CPR because someone fed her a dish they shouldn't makes my blood boil. Restaurateurs are not being asked to do allergen validation swabs, they're just being asked to have some sense. I went to RSSL's allergens in a nutshell last year. Not a single caterer / restaurateur was on the course. It was free.


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