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24Jul

The allergen regulations came into play in December 2014, almost six months ago, so food service businesses have had quite some time to get ready for the allergic community. There was plenty of warning before the regulations came into effect but many establishments may still be very unprepared for catering for an allergic diner.

ITV ran a story on the 6 o’clock news on the 10th July and I was really proud to be asked to visit them to talk about eating out with serious allergies.

How are things since the allergen regulations came out?

Is it OK just to warn customers that you don’t know and that cross contamination should be such an issue that they should not risk eating there?

Under the new EU Allergen regulations a response like this would be breaking the law and discriminating against allergic diners. You could also be missing out on revenue if you are not aware that your food is suitable – so if you run a takeaway outlet, make sure you can answer simple questions about what’s in your food.

Is it too much to ask that vendors understand the ingredients in the products they are selling and preparing for consumption? It’s really not that much harder to understand than the complex and very strict regulations for food hygiene and safety. In fact, it’s very similar. The food is potentially life threatening for the allergic consumer so it’s paramount to be able to give up-to-date and accurate advice to customers with dietary restrictions.

Me outside ITN Studios before the filming

Me outside ITN Studios

The Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH) recently commissioned a study into takeaway businesses in the UK and found very alarming results. You can read their paper ‘Reducing the risk to allergic consumers from takeaways breaking the law’.

It may sound harsh to say these takeaways are breaking the law but that is exactly what they are doing if they don’t make sure they understand what the 14 allergens are and whether the food they serve either a) contains any allergens or b) could easily cross contaminate due to the cooking and preparation procedures.

The report states that:

Each year in the UK, some 5000 of the 2 million people living with food allergies need hospital treatment for severe allergic reactions and 10 die from food-induced anaphylaxis.

Food allergies are on the rise, having doubled over the last decade, while hospital admissions have risen 7-fold.

Why you should never eat takeaway chicken (unless you’re really sure)

The RSPH has uncovered an alarmingly low level of allergen awareness and provision of information persisting in the takeaway sector. In a mystery dining investigation, we found that

  • over two thirds (70%) of takeaways appeared to be flouting the law by not providing information in the right way.
  • Over half (54%) did not know whether one of the major allergens was in their food.
  • Worryingly, four in five (80%) did not appear to have system in place to ensure the information they are providing is accurate and verifiable
  • With nine in ten unable to evidence this when requested.
  • Takeaways mainly serving fried chicken performed the worst: none of the outlets appeared to have a record of major allergens in their dishes or a notice to tell customer where to get information
  • and four in five (80%) could not tell us whether one of the major allergens was in a meal.

It doesn’t make for pleasant reading does it?

Why I don’t eat out at takeaways

This report is worrying but as someone with multiple life threatening allergies I have not eaten out from a takeaway, especially Indian or ethnic for about 25 years. It’s just not safe. I will eat at certain fish and chip shops where I can determine that the chips are gluten and wheat free and they can do me a dairy and wheat free batter.

It seems that this avoidance has been with good reason. I know that these are places where I have had near misses in the past. You don’t see the kitchen or the food being prepared and nothing comes labelled. It’s just too risky. Until things change I would suggest you all heed my advice and avoid takeaways if you have allergies.

PrintWorks Kitchen – a freefrom cafe where I feel safe and special

As part of the ITN filming, of me talking about what it’s like eating out with allergies and why I don’t eat out at takeaways, we visited The PrintWorks Kitchen. It was an impromtu visit which came about due to the good listening skills of the researcher and reporter at ITV. I told them I was going to this freefrom cafe for lunch after filming and they pounced on the opportunity to film in a cafe without too much planning.

Me looking downright miserable live on ITV news, talking about eating out with allergies at PrintWorks Kitchen

Me looking downright miserable live on ITV news, talking about eating out with allergies at PrintWorks Kitchen with cofounder Catherine Rose

So a phone call later we arrived with camera crew in tow to put Catherine Rose, one of the founders of the cafe, through her performance paces. She did really well, despite the short notice and having to make numerous cups of coffee on camera and serve chocolate brownie cake from many different angles on different plates. The snazzy leggings, sadly not visible here, were the show stoppers.

I promise I looked a damn sight happier than I do in this still from the live news after the film crew and reporter had gone and Catherine and I sat down to enjoy a well earned coffee or two and that cake. After looking at it, ordering and slicing into every which way for half an hour I really enjoyed eating it.

Amazing gluten, dairy, nut and soya free chocolate brownie and a coconut latte

Amazing gluten, dairy, nut and soya free chocolate brownie and a coconut latte

This is what I had… well what was left of it. After filming I deserved the cake and forgot to photograph it. There was a cherry on top and everything. I had coconut milk in my coffee, ask for the list of different plant based milks on offer. They also have a separate dairy free nozzle for frothing the milk to avoid contamination with cow’s milk in the regular coffees. Make sure you ask for dairy free milk and you’ll be safe.

Lunch was this rather tasty toasted sarnie, made in the dedicated gluten free bread toaster which is hidden away from any bready areas of the kitchen.

Gluten and dairy free toasted sandwich with roasted vegetables and caramelised onion

Gluten and dairy free toasted sandwich with roasted vegetables and caramelised onion

Michelle Berriedale-Johnson of The FreeFrom Food and Eating out Awards was also filmed for the same programme at Olleys Fish bar in South London, a takeaway that does understand the regulations so well worth the visit if you fancy posh fish and chips. You can read her review of the report here: Allergy Awareness or the lack of it in high street takeaways

I am trying to get hold of footage of the news which was aired on the 6 o’clock news in ITV on Friday 10th July, but not having much luck. I will share it here if and when I succeed to track it down.

Have you had problems getting a takeaway that was allergen free? Or do you avoid takeaways? Have you found eating out easier since the new regulations?

And finally, if you are in London, please, please visit The PrintWorks Kitchen on Rosebery Avenue, Clerkenwell, London, EC1R 4SX. Nearest tube Faringdon. “It is the best freefrom cafe in London and probably the world!” That must be true because I said it!

  

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