Sent on behalf of Trading Standards North West
Trading standards officers from 13 local authorities across the north west were horrified to find that only seven businesses out of 44 they contacted were following best practice on allergens in meals.
32 samples of food were analysed and six were found to contain allergens that the customer would not be aware of. Action has been taken against the companies involved.
Yet 32 of the businesses had signs inviting customers to ask them about allergens.
Jane Rawling from the Trading Standards North West (TSNW) Food Focus Group which led the work said, “Allergy sufferers are being put at risk due to the lack of knowledge and poor practices in the kitchens. People have died because of allergens in take away food – it is a very serious issue.
“The takeaways concerned did the minimum by displaying notices inviting customers to tell them about allergies yet could not back that up with information about what was in their food.
“Businesses must comply fully with the new regulations which were introduced in 2014 and take the utmost care - we cannot stress that strongly enough. Allergy sufferers need to explicitly request allergen information every time they buy a takeaway, even if they have been fine consuming similar foods in the past. If the caterer cannot provide the answers to their questions then it may be a risk not worth taking for the customer.”
Out of 44 businesses only five had systems in place to accurately advise customers of the allergen content of their meals and only two had taken into account that meals could be cross-contaminated from allergens on pans, cooking utensils or work surfaces.
Businesses had also neglected to take account of 'may contain' warnings on their ingredients packaging, which highlights potential risks from the manufacturer.
30 businesses used nut powders in their kitchen and 25 of them decanted from the original packaging into larger tubs, increasing the risk of contaminating other surfaces in the kitchen and posing a serious safety risk for anyone allergic to nuts or peanuts.
28 of the businesses used nut powders in their meals but only 19 of them listed this on the menu and 11 of them did not keep the original packaging or invoices so the type of nut or powder being used could not be determined without the product being analysed. One business was found to be deliberately substituting expensive almond powder with cheaper ground peanut powder.
A small proportion of the takeaways were found to be substituting mutton for lamb and turkey julienne instead of ham but 91% of premises complied with the regulations in terms of colours added to their meals.
Carla Jones, CEO, Allergy UK, said: “Severe food allergy is a potentially life threatening condition and it is vital that everyone working in the food service industry understands their role in allergy management.
“We are pleased to see that Trading Standards North West are taking a proactive approach to carrying out inspections on food substitutions and cross contamination, as this can have very serious consequences for allergy sufferers. Non-compliance can lead to a fatality and owners have been prosecuted as result.
“There is still some way to go in ensuring high standards of allergy management in food outlets, however, we hope that through this kind of intervention, and by increasing awareness, eating out or having takeaways can become a less daunting experience for people with an allergy.”
These results confirm the findings of a joint FSA and Allergy UK survey where over 60% of the respondents said that staff lacked knowledge of menu content when giving information, were not aware of the potential harm of cross contamination or ingredient substitution and did not understand the severity of an allergy and how easily a mistake may cause a reaction.
Ms Rawling added: “One of the most frequent examples of written information after the legislation is a sign asking people to ask staff and make them aware of a food allergy or intolerance.
“Some customers saw this as an improvement, suggesting raised awareness and a willingness to respond to allergen enquiries, many saw it as meaningless and a box ticking exercise fulfilling the letter of the law but not the spirit. Venues cannot take the easy option when it comes to allergens.”
Officers from 13 local authorities wrote to 44 businesses and gave advice about substituting food for lesser ingredients and managing the allergenic ingredients that they use. The premises were then inspected to see if they had followed the advice.