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10Mar

Well this morning the allergic community has been up in arms at recent coverage of the new EU regulations about food allergens.

You can read the whole article here in the Telegraph, “EU chefs attack new EU regulations in allergens in food”.

In December last year a new law made it necessary for anyone selling food prepared on the premises from small cafes, restaurants and pubs to schools and other institutions and catering firms to understand< where allergens may be present in their food either by design or by cross contamination and then to communicate that in writing or verbally.

For those of us with allergies, many of us with multiple allergies, this could make a huge difference to our quality of life.

This is my response to all 100 of you lucky so and so’s. Most of whom can eat and cook what you want to, whenever you want to. So listen up Telegraph and Albert Roux, Mark Hix and Thomasina Miers, the founder of Wahaca.

Now you all have every right to make whatever comments you want about the new regulations and have apparently made your grievances known by writing to The Telegraph in droves saying exactly what you think but I think you’ve all got your creative wires a bit crossed.

You say that the new regs are…

…hurting “spontaneity, creativity and innovation”

Really? If you don’t want to cater for me, as an allergic diner, you don’t have to. I’m quite happy to eat elsewhere. There are plenty of restaurants who are already catering very well for allergic diners.

You carry on. You add butter to every dish and fill your kitchens with allergens to the rafters.
I completely get what you’re all saying, but I don’t agree. It’s just moaning and whining.
All you have to do is carry on regardless but make damn sure that you communicate to anyone asking for information that none of your food is safe.

The article also says, “They must display information on 14 allergens including rare allergies such as mustard seeds and Lupin, or face fines of up to £5,000 for any infraction of the rules.”

Well actually the regulations require you to know, and communicate. This can be done verbally but that does give quite a huge margin for error and does need to written down somewhere for training purposes.

But I’m assuming you do know what goes into your food? You don’t just hurl in random ingredients. Oh maybe you do. Maybe that is what creativity and flare is all about. Shut your eyes, feel about for something and shove it in the pot. I know I’m being slightly childish here but this makes me mad.

I know there is a lot of thought going on as to how flavours work and how a good meal is created.

By all means keep your special’s menu and flare and create to your heart’s content.
But take a look at what some of your competitors are doing and you will realise that they have quietly been getting to grips with these regulations and already have separate, much shorter menus for allergic diners. Hell I’m happy if I can just eat one thing on a menu.

We’re not asking for every dish to be completely freefrom allergens.

I suggest you go and actually read the regulations and understand what they mean to you.
And if you don’t want allergic diners to cramp your style then make absolutely certain that all your staff know this and can tell anyone who asks.

Is the only really safe thing to eat in a pub a bag of ready salted crisps?

Is the only really safe thing to eat in a pub a bag of ready salted crisps?

If that’s the stance you want to take then take it.

The fact that you cannot try to offer just one dish that might be free from even one allergen shows a complete lack of understanding, empathy, care and if I’m honest, creativity.

But you have loads of creativity, right? You are worried that I’ll cramp it. That I’ll turn up in your restaurant ranting and raving and reporting you to the Food Standards Agency.

Well you’re wrong. The regulations don’t mean that any of your food has to be freefrom.
You just need to KNOW and COMMUNICATE.

What did they teach you at chef school? Catering college? I know they teach you about food safety, hygiene and how to avoid giving your guest food poisoning but is there no regard for the fact that some foods can kill a person with an allergy and will most certainly make them very ill.

I’m sure you would be devastated if a dish you prepared made people ill due to poor food hygiene.

So why can’t you make the very simple connection here. Allergens make a small number of the population really sick and in some cases, people die from anaphylaxis from food they’ve eaten.

If you prepared a meal for someone, knowing they had an allergy, and didn’t understand the dish and in so doing, gave them a meal that made them so ill they died from anaphylaxis, how would you feel?

Really, how would you feel?
If you killed someone with your food?
I don’t think you’d ever get over that if you thought you could have avoided it my listening and understanding.

Surely it would better to turn the allergic customer away. Tell them your restaurant isn’t safe due to cross contamination. Many restaurants will do that. I have been turned away myself recently. At the time it’s not nice but it’s better to do that than make someone ill.

I guess your argument is that I and all other allergic diners should stay at home.
That is a bullies argument. It’s childish and shows a complete lack of regard for our right as a nation to socialise and be part of life with our friends. In this nation that seems to revolve around an ever spinning whirl of food based celebrations.

I’m quite happy to eat before I go out, bring my own food etc. I will always check before going to any restaurant. I will never just turn up without finding out whether my allergens can be catered for.

So if you don’t want me there, just turn me away.

And if I must be at your establishment for a very special event, you can count on this. With your attitudes I won’t be touching a morsel of food because it takes a hell of a lot of trust on my part to eat out.

I take most of the risk. I have to weigh up what I’m told on the phone, how the chef reacts, what food is offered to me. I have to remain vigilant at all times.

It’s a bureaucratic nightmare

The article focuses on the difficulty of having to audit the whole menu and list where allergens are present. You don’t have to do this. Get your facts straight! Obviously if you wanted to make it easy for your diners, your staff etc. then updating menus with allergens present would be one way of doing it.

But you don’t have to do this. You are all making so much more of these new regulations than you need to.
If you can tell me something is OK, that’s fine with me. But if it’s not written down how does anyone remember the allergens present?

Many establishments will highlight a few dishes that are suitable and steer diners towards these safer meals that they can handle creating.

Don’t make this hard for yourselves.
You don’t have to recreate the wheel. It’s really not that hard. McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and many other chain restaurants have had allergen bible’s now for years. I can see how that will not always work in a fine dining restaurant or small bistro where a menu might change regularly.
So if you don’t want to cater for people with allergens, just tell us. We’ll all go somewhere else.

Miss Miers, who won BBC cookery competition Masterchef in 2005, said: “It is a total fiasco and in my view is the responsibility of the allergee to ask, no the restaurateurs to list. I had a severe allergy for 6 years so coming at it from both sides of the fence.”

First of all, I’m not sure allergee is a real word but we get what you mean. And I agree, it is totally my responsibility as the ‘allergee’ to ask and I always advise everyone with allergies to phone ahead, never just turn up somewhere unannounced. It’s a dangerous game when it comes to eating out with allergies.

But for this to work there must be some responsibility on the restaurant, not necessarily to list but to communicate in a sensible and sensitive way.

And to Miss Miers, who says she had ‘a severe allergy for 6 years’, I must say you’re lucky. Did your allergy just go away? Or was it in fact an intolerance? or were you miraculously cured? Did you find it hard to eat out with your allergy? What were you allergic to? or should this actually read, I have had a severe allergy for 6 years? Either way you should be in a great position to understand these regulations and find a way that your restaurant can work with them.

Change is needed

Noone likes change.
No one, least of all it seems, chefs, being told what they can and cannot do or cook.

Can we not move away from this boring argument about your flare and creativity being stifled and instead put it to good use.

I challenge you all to create just one dish that doesn’t contain allergens. Just one.
So that your allergic diners can choose that.

It is entirely possible and could be very simple.

Then take a look at what your competitors are doing. How are they handling these new regulations?

Give me a nice juicy steak cooked medium rare and I’m happy. I think you’ll find that most allergic diners don’t want you to restrict every dish and stifle your creativity. We’re quite used to sitting next to people enjoying amazing food while we enjoy something simple, safe and allergen free. That is the price we pay for daring to eat out and I am happy if that is all that’s available.

But when someone is prepared to go the extra mile and make my experience just as enjoyable as my non allergic friends it is a truly memorable experience.

I have had some amazing experiences recently at so many places, including most recently Brasserie Blanc, Pure Taste and The Alford Arms, to name just a few.

These guys can do it. They all have simple menus for the allergic diner. These meals and these meals alone are made to the same structure and preparation. The rest of your whole menu can be dedicated to your much loved creativity and flare.

I will happily go somewhere else with my crowd of greedy, champagne and wine drinking friends.
Unlike you they do care about the fact that it so hard to integrate and eat out, they want me to be with them so I chose where we go.

Remember that – the allergic diner chooses. We have the power and we will not stay at home. So what would you say to me if I phoned your restaurant?

If I told you I was severely allergic to all nuts, all dairy (I mean cow, goat and sheep here not eggs), wheat, celery, tomato and soya. I’m guessing you’d recoil in horror.

But turn that on its head and you’ll see that I CAN eat all meat, all fish, all poultry, all vegetables (well nearly) , all fruit and all grains apart from wheat. I can eat herbs, spices and oils (just not nut oils) and I am really not that fussy.

So what are you going to do about it?

You can read what Michelle Berridale-Johnson, the brains behind the new FreeFrom Eating out Awards thinks about this recent article here, “Top chefs attack EU regulations, again…”

She agrees with me, before any of you go on and on with your moaning, get your facts straight and if you would like to discuss this with a real allergic diner I’m right here. Just leave a comment; I would love to debate this with you.

I bet none of you will… now there’s a challenge…

  

One Response to Top chefs attack new EU regulations on allergens in food

  1. Claire

    My blood is boiling. Thank goodness you’ve gone some way to calming me somewhat.
    As the mother of a 6 year old dairy intolerant child eating out is a borderline terrifying experience. There’s the usual eating-out-with-children stress, combined with the how-to-present-the-two-dairy-free-things-on-the-menu period which does very little to make for a relaxing family meal.
    Of late however, we have the new prospect of the arguing-with-the-manager-about-the-lack-of-allergens-list too.
    All of this is often topped off with the moment we’ve had enough, coat-up the children, collect the bags/colouring books/teddies and mobilise the Exit Unfed Plan.
    Fun.  

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