Food allergies and how restaurants are adapting to European regulations

17% of Europe’s population suffer from some type of food allergy. The new European Directive that affects mass caterers or catering establishments that serve non-prepacked food to consumers came into force in Spain in December 2014. The new directive establishes that customers must be informed of the presence of allergenic substances in the food they are being served. A couple of months later, in February 2015, a Royal Decree was passed to regulate this directive and set monetary sanctions of between 5,000 and 600,000 Euros for those who do not comply with it.

Caterers have made an effort not only to give their staff the necessary training, but also to manage and handle their products according to the new regulations, and to produce the necessary informative literature. While the legislation does allow caterers to inform their customers verbally, every establishment must keep a record of the 14 ingredient types that are to be declared.

One of the problems that caterers face when applying the new regulation is information shortage and the lack of a standard signing system recognized by both consumers and professionals in the sector. The Spanish Consumers, Food Safety and Nutrition Agency, AECOSAN (Agencia Española de Consumo, Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutrición) has produced a guide to the implementation of the new regulation that can be downloaded from their website. It provides a simple view of the most relevant aspects of the new regulation.

The professionals in the sector, who had to adapt to the new legislation in the middle of the uproar of the 2014 Christmas season have made an extra effort to provide their customers with the necessary information and have modified their menus and food handling processes to prevent cross-contamination.

When it comes to informing customers, many of the establishments have opted for an icon system to display, with more or less clarity, the presence of allergenic substances. Others have chosen the use of QR codes, a very efficient solution that allows caterers to present the information without any detriment to the elegance of the menu’s presentation. Since the new law forces establishments to inform their customers in writing, many small business have decided simply to put up a notice to indicate that information is available and will be provided verbally on request.

Caterers and restaurant managers have had to acquire the necessary training in a short period of time. They had to update their handling and storage processes and to make sure that the dishes provided to customers who suffer from allergies had not been cross-contaminated with allergenic substances. Gluten is one of the most difficult ingredients to handle, as it lingers stubbornly in preparation areas and affects a growing number of coeliac people.

Professional associations have promoted a number of measures to adapt to the new law. They include courses and training sessions, as well as informative notices and other materials for their members. The Spanish Society for the Hotel Trade (La Federación Española de Hostelería, FEHR) has published a specific website (www.hosteleríaynutrición.com) that contains information on resources to help professionals in the sector to comply with the new regulations.

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