Allergy labelling how confident is the FreeFrom customer when eating out?

Nearly a year on from the introduction of the FIR regulations how safe are free from customers when dining out?

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An online survey was carried out by FATC from the 6 October 2015.  The survey was to find out how the introduction of NEW Food Information for Consumers regulation (FIC)  has affected the food allergy, coeliac and food intolerant community when dining out. The new law means that food service businesses are now required to provide information on the 14 major allergens listed within the regulations.

The survey was to gain an understanding on how confident the freefrom customer is when dining out since the introduction of the FIC regulations 10 months on.

There was a range of respondents with special diets, including 23 with food allergies, 61 with coeliac disease and 32 with food intolerance’s.  We asked a variety of different questions to capture both positive and negative reactions, requesting the respondents to tick which was appropriate to their personal experiences. We offered opportunities at each question for a comment to be given.

For more information on the full report please email

Allergy information

Of those questioned 36% found the allergy information given was confusing and difficult to understand, with 21% being given conflicting information and 35% spotting errors on allergen information which did not give them confidence in the venue.

The chart below shows a small percentage  felt the accuracy of written & verbal information supplied was excellent, with  44% felt that verbal communication given was poor.  Businesses have a choice in how they supply allergen information, either verbal or documented,  however, it would appear from responses and comments that written information would be a preferred method over verbal for quality and accuracy.

quality of allergen information



From comments received many freefrom customers believed that venues that are part of a large chain would be more accurate when supplying written documented allergy information, due to the size of their business with processes and guidance given by their head office. However, this was not always the case, as some would appear to fall down with lack of staff training, inadequate levels of understanding of their menus, inaccurate allergen information and poor management of the freefrom customer service.

Gluten free menus

bubble 2 bubble 3Gluten free menus are now more widely accessible but from the data compiled 83% of respondents who eat out gluten free felt the choices available were still limited and      where a specific gluten free menu was offered 59% felt that  staff did not understand their requirements or have a basic knowledge on cross contamination.

Overall 57% of those eating out with a gluten free diet did NOT feel safe when dining out since the allergy labelling changes came into effect.


gluten free dining

Dairy free diets

Those questioned who had a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance, 51% found caterers mistakenly thought eggs to be within this category, with 61% often finding it difficult to find a dessert to suit the dietary needs. With only 24% stating that bubble 4businesses were able to provide accurate information relating to their specific diet

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Dairy Free in the UK

A YouGov report from September 2014 found that 8% of the population, that’s 12% of UK households, believe they had a dairy intolerance or had a dairy allergy.  Whilst only 7% of the population, 10% of UK households had an issue with wheat or gluten, but caterers are still failing to provide for the dairy (milk) free customer.  This ‘special’ dietary requirement is growing.  Lactose intolerance in adulthood is most prevalent in people of East Asian descent, affecting more than 90 percent of adults in some of these communities. Lactose intolerance is also very common in people of West African, Arab, Jewish, Greek, and Italian descent.[1]


The Nut free diner – ‘May Contains’ an issue?

The nut free diner responses shows that there has been no difference in the number of choices available since the introduction of the FIC. This could be in part due to the ‘May Contains’ labelling which is not currently covered under the bubble 5 nutsregulations.   Many businesses find ‘May Contains’ labelling confusing and a grey area even when they do not have nuts on the premises.  With many businesses using the term  “they can’t guarantee 100%…..” that dishes will not contain their specified allergens. From those questioned there is still a very limited choice available, and 20% found some business were even reluctant to serve them.


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Staff knowledge on allergens  Chains vs small businesses

When we asked about staff knowledge on allergens in large chain compared to small individual food businesses the smaller individual businesses seemed to fair better than chains in the higher ratings

allergen knowledge


 Staff understanding on cross contamination

Chain restaurants again lagged behind the smaller businesses in the good and were just behind for the excellent rating of understanding cross contamination.


cross contamination



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Overall from all respondents taking part only 38% felt safe when eating out since the changes, it is apparent that food businesses need to have more basic training to ensure staff within both chains and small businesses have better knowledge in place to manage the expectations of the FreeFrom customer.

The data from the report highlights there is a variance of knowledge and understanding of handling and communicating allergens and a lack of urgency and importance of getting it right. 13% of respondents thought venues had a good understanding and only 3% thought they had an excellent understanding with higher % at Average and lower understanding.  The data clearly identifies that the quality of allergen information needs to improve and with clarification on the use of the term ‘May Contains’ when used on both pre packed and non-prepacked foods.

bubble 7 GF CCPersonally on my travels over the last few months I have had to contact 5 different venues and have found 4 out of 5 to have incorrect allergen information, one local to home had at least 15 errors.   The venues included two major hotel chains and a leading education establishment. The errors were blatant mistakes, where allergens where left of or included just in case!  The impression that was given is that the tables had been thrown together on the day with no checks !  We emphasise that a second person should always sanity check the allergen information supplied before it gets presented to the customer, we understand that mistakes can be made but if a process of auditing is in place then errors can be eliminated before a customer escape happens.  Click here to download for FREE our excel colour coded allergen table, the table helps to identify how dishes can be adapted leaving out or removing products with allergens.  It can also highlight the may contains labelling giving the customer an option to choose if they can eat a product safely.



Finally Alexa Barracia quoted

“Generally speaking I don’t believe the new legislation has made caterers more likely or better equipped to cater for allergy. In my view it’s because there is still no compulsory training for caterers in allergy or cross contamination. That would be key in starting to turn things around as there is a huge gulf in understanding of allergens, their impact and how one can safely cater even in an environment where allergens may be present”

“I would add that it’s all about good communication. As allergic consumers we have a responsibility to ask all the right questions and inform the chef of our situation. All we ask is to have good communication in return, ideally in a one-to-one chat with the chef.”

Alexa is a mum to fully paid-up EpiPen-toting tot (egg, peanuts, nuts, sesame & lentils). No hand-wringing, just info & observations. Journalist & #allergyhour co-founder quoted and can be found on Twitter @foodallergyuk

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If you would like further information from the full report and to see further comments  please contact Caroline by email

If you would like your allergen information audited please get in contact and we are happy to discuss options with you.

If you would like further information on the data and outcomes of this survey please contact Caroline by email  or come along to the Food Matters Live event Click here to register.  Pop by and say hello and see a demo of our level 1 allergen awareness eLearning module and the allergy awareness booklet which is launching at the event.

For more information on the Level 1 induction tools click here

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