I was interviewed on last night’s ITN 6 o’clock news, thanks to a report from the Royal Society of Public Health  revealing that :

* Over two thirds of all takeaways visited (55 around London) failed to provide legally required information on how customers can find out if the 14 major allergens are in their food
* Over half of fried chicken, fish and chips, chinese, sushi and pizza shops were unable to state whether their food contained an allergen
* Four in five said they were not in possession of records stating whether allergens were present in ingredients used and nine out of ten could not produce this when asked

Surprise, surprise…. Takeaways, which have always presented the greatest danger to allergic people, are usually small, independent outlets many of whom (over 60% according to the RSPH) are unlikely to have even heard that regulations are in place, let alone what they are or how to follow them. A lot of work still to be done there – and anyone with an allergy would be wise to continue to steer clear.

However, that is not to say that there are not exceptions – and ITN found one in which to conduct one of their interviews – Olley’s in leafy Herne Hill – just opposite the lovely Brockwell Park down in south London. (And for anyone who says, as we north Londoners do, how on earth am I meant to get to Herne Hill…. I have just discovered the Thames Link – which links up with my now absolutely favourite railway, the London Overground. It whisks you from Hampstead Heath to Herne Hill in less than 30 minutes!!! In a pleasantly cool, uncrowded train….)


allergen chartOlley’s is a fish and chipper par excellence. Started many years ago (I think Harry said 1997 but am not quite sure…) by Harry Niazi as a takeaway, it has grown and grown to a now quite big restaurant with a take-away next door. But what a fish and chip shop! Only serving MSC sustainable fish (they have an award to prove it), they now have a gluten free Monday evening and Tuesday and an excellent allergen chart covering all fourteen allergens and all the food that they serve in the restaurant and the take-away. And…..  the fish and chips are DELICIOUS. Sadly both the ITN crew and I had to rush away so could only just taste the steaming plateful put in front of us but I am seriously considering another trip on the Thames Link to allow me indulge at my leisure. Especially since I noticed that Harry offers gluten-free beers to go with his gf fish and chips on Monday and Tuesdays!

HarryAnd here he is, breathing a happy sigh of relief once the interview was done, with the ITN crew in the background!

But it was not just Harry and I who got on the news! The researcher had asked me if I knew anyhow who had problems eating out – so naturally I put them in touch with Ruth of What Allergy?  And to do Ruth’s interview, they nipped up the road from their Grey’s Inn Road headquarters to our Catherine (with a C)’s café, the Printworks Kitchen, in Roseberry Avenue!! So we had the full FoodsMatter team on the six o’clock news last night!!

Anyhow, thank you ITN and RSPH – all coverage for allergen compliance with the new regulations is welcome, even when the results of the research are depressing, if not unexpected.

And come on, takeaways! It is not really as though the regulations are asking that much of you…. Just to know what is in your food and to be able to tell your customers ! OK, so you do have to learn what the 14 major allergens are and to be able to recognise them in the food you prepare. But even this is now so much easier than before the arrival of the new regulations.  Now it is no longer good enough to just state ‘casein’ or ‘modified starch’ on an ingredients list; if the casein or the modified starch is derived from one of the 14 allergens, then that allergen (milk or wheat, for example) has to be included in bold, in brackets, after the ingredient. So come on guys, get your act together! You could enter the Street Food and Takeaways category of the FreeFrom Eating Out Awards for starters!!



Way back in 1987, just as I was starting work on a major history of English food, my eighteen-month-old son, Jonathan, and his father were diagnosed with dairy intolerances. Back then the alternatives for those on dairy-free diets were few and far between and pretty unappealing so, after some months of experimentation, I launched Berrydales Special Ices, soya based ices which were dairy and additive free – and tasted delicious! While manufacturing the ices I started a newsletter, The Inside Story, about food allergy and food intolerance and, by 1995, it was a quarterly magazine circulating to over 35,000 health professionals. In 2000 The Inside Story, re-named Foods Matter, became a subscription magazine and now all of that information, and much, much more, is accessible on the Foods Matter, Coeliacs Matter and Skins Matter sites and on our two freefrom food sites, FreeFromFoodsMatter and FreeFromRecipesMatter. You can follow me on twitter @FoodsMatter or email me at michelle@foodsmatter.com And, of course, you can also follow the exciting growth of freefrom food by checking out our annual FreeFrom Food Awards celebrating the best and the newest in freefrom foods!

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