Since the introduction of the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation in December 2014 there has been a significant increase in the awareness of allergens and the allergic customer. However mistakes are still happening and we are now seeing considerable fines being levied and this can, in part, be attributed to a lack of thorough training.
Unfortunately, unlike food safety, the requirements for undertaking allergen specific training aren’t so rigorous and as such, training is often missed with possibly fatal or costly consequences.
Training is being missed for a variety of reasons;
- Training is one of the first things to be cut when cost saving exercises are put into place, irrespective of whether the training need still exists.
- Organisations believe that simply learning about the 14 main allergens and their legal requirements for labelling etc is sufficient but the training doesn’t discuss the risks and ramifications about getting it wrong.
- Being unaware that such training exists or should be completed.
By not having appropriate training it can result in a lack of appreciation of the importance of adhering to the regulations as well as not addressing the raft of myths and misconceptions which exist around safe allergy provision, both of which can lead to mistakes being made.
We see and hear of many such common misunderstandings both from those working within the industry as well as customers, which is alarming to say the least. The BBC recently produced a short video which summarises 7 of the most common myths surrounding safe allergy friendly catering. To watch the video click here.
Can you or your organisation identify with any of these?
So what can happen if mistakes are made? There is of course the risk of someone becoming seriously ill or a fatality, but penalties imposed by the courts can be significant, with two of the most recent high profile fines having been awarded in the past few months
The National pub chain Greene King has been fined £24,000 plus costs after an 11-year-old boy suffered an anaphylactic shock in one of its pubs after eating a baked alaska containing egg, despite being assured it didn’t. Whilst there is some onus on the supplier for this misinformation, Green King was made aware of the correct allergen information for months and didn’t act on it.
A Birkdale takeaway owner was fined £12,900 plus costs after a customer was mistakenly fed a dish containing peanuts in spite of her request for a peanut free meal and being assured that it was peanut free.
Both instances clearly breach the requirements to adequately list and communicate the allergens contained within the dishes.
So how significant are these fines?
In March 2015 the maximum fine for failing under food safety regulations was £20,000 but as of February 2016 is now unlimited. The Food Safety Act, the legislation under which allergy penalties are prosecuted has clearly laid out criteria on the fines that could be levied and for organisations with a turnover of over £50million, the fine could reach £3million, certainly a lot more costly than a training course.!
When considering a penalty, any court is unlikely to look favourably on any business that prioritises profit over safety and will consider the extent to which precautions and due diligence a business has put in place to prevent a breach occurring; including training and associated policies and procedures.
Whilst it may appear these fines are rare and a ‘one off’ court cases relating to the 2014 regulations take many months if not years to happen with the sentencing happening sometime after, therefore we only expect to see an increase.
Are you confident and assured that you and your staff have the necessary knowledge, policies and procedures to prevent an incident and financial penalty like this happening?