A few weeks ago an organisation approached me for a signature on a petition, protesting about the new European Food Information to Consumers Regulation No 1169/2011. Its issues were that the rules were complex and burdensome for the Restaurant and Catering Industry, adding additional costs.
I can sympathise with small businesses when new regulations come into effect, as they may not have sufficient resources to apply the changes required. They often struggle to know how best to implement the requirements and it can be expensive to engage experts to guide them through the myriad of red tape.
This regulation requires food businesses to provide detailed labelling of the ingredients within their products and menus. It pays particular attention to a list of 14 known allergens, which must be clearly identified to customers. Of equal importance, food businesses must also know the content of their products and dishes and where the fresh ingredients have come from.
This regulation increases the administrative burden in what is already a heavily regulated industry. Menus must be analysed to identify if the allergens are present, which may occur daily in some cases and staff must be trained to provide information when asked by customers. Additionally menus and labels must clearly indicate which allergens are present.
So why didn’t I sign the petition?
I believe that customers' needs must come first. The Hospitality Industry has always been about welcoming customers and delivering a first class service, whether it’s related to food and beverages or accommodation. The fact that only 2% of the population suffers from these allergies is irrelevant.
The regulations are not insisting on menus being available for people suffering from allergies; merely allowing people to make their own decisions when informed of the facts. Surely we owe our customers a duty of care and with sensitivity to allergens seemingly increasing with each generation, this regulation is essential.
Catering for minorities has been an issue for many years and can be a real challenge for independent operators. Rather than trying to scrap regulation or dilute its effects, the focus needs to be on how to support SMEs. Perhaps grants or incentives could be given at the initial stages, to encourage implementation and avoid the last minute panic as the regulations come into effect.
In this case ‘putting yourself in someone else's shoes’ would really help to understand why this regulation is necessary. Eating outside of the home for people suffering with severe allergies, or their friends and families must be daunting. Always having to ask what’s in the food and hoping that the service staff aren’t just guessing.
From December 2014, some of this burden moved to the Catering Industry and providing the rules are adhered to; life will be made just a little bit easier for some of our customers.
So that is why I didn’t sign the petition.