Food Allergy Laws in Restaurants in the UK | Lifelab Testing

Food Allergy Laws in Restaurants in the UK

Last Updated: 13th February 2023 · Written by Nida Ali

There is no sincere love than the love of food

GEORGE BERNARD SHAW

Cooking food is an art, and the cornerstone of great cooking is the art of preparation, serving, and presentation of food. Cooking food, similar to processing and formulation, is a complex phenomenon that is difficult to predict. The simplest treatment, such as heating, can alter the structure and allergenic activity of food allergens. Food allergies affect an estimated 2 million adults in the UK, not including all of the people suffering from food intolerances too. Around 44% of adults in Britain are currently suffering from at least one allergy, with almost half of allergy sufferers experiencing more than one allergy {1}.

According to the NHS, food allergy is an immune system response that can be either an IgE-mediated or non-IgE-mediated food allergy. In rare cases, there can be a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), which can be life-threatening. Because of the serious impacts of a food allergy, eating in a restaurant can be daunting for those who have allergies. With previous incidents of allergic reactions in the UK, food labelling on pre-packaged items has seen an improvement, but what about restaurants? Within this article we will discuss current laws in the UK and what this means for you when you are eating out.

Natasha’s Law

Natasha’s Law came into effect on the 1st October 2021 and benefits the millions of people living with allergies in the UK. Natasha Ednan-Laperouse had a fatal allergic reaction in 2016 after purchasing a pre-packed baguette which did not have the ingredients listed on it. Natasha’s family have since campaigned to introduce clearer allergen labelling on foods. As a result, Natasha’s law ensures that all pre-packed for direct sale (PPDS) food items in the UK must have a full list of ingredients, with the 14 major allergens emphasised in the list.

The 14 Common Allergens

The Food Standards Agency has listed these 14 common allergens that must be mentioned clearly on packaged products. These include:

14 Common Allergens. Celery, Cereals containing gluten (wheat, barley, oats), Crustaceans (prawns, crabs and lobsters), Lupin, Milk, Molluscs, Mustard, Peanut, Sesame, Soybeansm Sulphur Dioxide, Sulphites (greater than  10 parts per million) and tree nuts such as: almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pistachios, macadamia nuts.

Who enforces allergy regulations?

The Food Standards Agency is responsible for providing the framework in which local authorities operate. With food businesses, local authorities enforce these regulations around allergen information. This means if businesses fail to comply, the local authority can take action by giving advice, issuing an improvement notice, then finally issuing a penalty.

What are the allergy laws in restaurants?

Despite Natasha’s Law being a positive step for pre-packaged foods, there is still a lack of regulation in restaurants. A third of allergy sufferers state that they have experienced an allergic reaction while eating at a restaurant. Research has found that some of these allergic reactions still occurred after conveying the allergy to staff {2}. However, the law is not as strict for these types of food businesses compared to pre-packed food.

Restaurants must provide allergen information in writing, with full allergen information provided on either a menu, chalkboard or in an information pack. If the allergens are not clear on the menu, a written notice should be available to explain to customers how to find out allergy information. Nevertheless, this legislation puts the emphasis on the consumer being responsible for requesting extra information rather than it always being visible for all customers. Because of this, customers could face the danger of waiters not fully understanding allergies or making mistakes with allergen information. The risks of this are clear, and became a reality for Owen Carey.

Owen was used to ordering foods to fit his restricted diet from allergies, but at a restaurant without information available on the menu he had to trust his waiter. After explaining his allergies to the server, Owen was assured that his burger was plain, yet unbeknownst to him, it had been marinated in buttermilk. This simple mistake cost Owen his life, and has sparked the call for change around restaurant allergen information.

Owen’s Law

The Owen’s Law petition hopes to improve the way allergy information is provided in restaurants in the UK. It is argued that to prevent further deaths from allergies, all restaurants should state allergens in their dishes on the face of the main menu. The Food Standards Agency supports the campaign’s call for greater training for restaurant staff so they understand their responsibilities when it comes to allergies. Owen’s family continue to fight for this law to become accepted in the UK. In the meantime, you can read our tips for feeling confident when eating at a restaurant with food sensitivities.

How Food Businesses Can Help

All establishments serving food can ensure that allergic reactions are avoided by taking specific steps to decrease the likelihood of incidents. This involves the following steps that can prevent such allergic reactions in restaurants:

  • Display the ingredient lists.
  • Provide recipes for the menu items.
  • Train staff comprehensively on food allergies.
  • Use separate utensils and areas when cooking and preparing meals for customers with food allergies, if possible, to prevent cross-contamination. If there isn’t enough space, wiping down the surfaces thoroughly would help.
  • Have a special plan for serving guests with special dietary needs.

Restaurants and environmental health programs have the ability to work together and reduce the risk of customer food allergic reactions in their restaurant.

Allergy Friendly Restaurants

At Lifelab Testing, we want all allergy sufferers to feel confident when eating in restaurants. That’s why we’ve created a tool for exploring allergy friendly restaurants near you.

Final thoughts

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Our Complete Body Test

To eat out in restaurants and not experience allergy or intolerance symptoms, you firstly need to know your body. To do this, a Complete Body Test will analyse your body’s reaction to 38 allergens and 79 intolerances. With this knowledge in hand, you can avoid food items which cause your symptoms. When eating in restaurants, this information will be essential in choosing which dish you want to eat. Take control of your own food journey with Allergy or Intolerance Test from Lifelab Testing.

References

  1. Mintel’s Allergy and Allergy Remedies UK 2010. Foods Matter. (https://www.foodsmatter.com/allergy_intolerance/miscellaneous/articles/mintel_allergy_report_2010.html)
  2. Oriel RC, Waqar O, Sharma HP, Casale TB, Wang J. Characteristics of Food Allergic Reactions in United States Restaurants. J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2021 Apr;9(4):1675-1682. doi: 10.1016/j.jaip.2020.12.018. Epub 2020 Dec 15. PMID: 33338685. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33338685/)

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