Footprint: the monthly update from the foodservice sustainability champion

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th August 2015
This is part of a series of monthly updates from Footprint, a publication promoting sustainable responsible business in the food service industry. Allergic Reaction Gather & Gather boss Allister Richards tells Footprint why he thinks Britain’s leading chefs should have spent less time attacking the new EU allergen labeling rules, and more time getting ready for them. Allister Richards - Gather+Gather low resThe signatories read like a who’s who of the country’s top chefs. Albert Roux. Mark Hix. Thomasina Miers. Plus another 100 or so. The letter, published in the Daily Telegraph, focused on the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation – more specifically the 14 allergens that all food business now have to declare. “As chefs, restaurateurs, hoteliers and caterers, we are concerned about the bureaucratic nightmare the recent EU allergen regulations have imposed on our businesses,” they wrote. “And it is not just the cost. They will reduce the spontaneity, creativity and innovation restaurants and others in the industry have enjoyed up until now.” But the fact remains that the regulations are here – and they’ve been a long time in the making. So while some spend their days writing letters about what they see as a “bureaucratic nightmare”, others have got on the front foot. Gather & Gather, for one, was planning for the changes – which came into force in December – “way in advance”, says its managing director, Allister Richards. “We ran a big training programme around accountability for what we serve,” he tells Footprint. “Our responsibility is to understand categorically what’s in the dishes we serve – that’s the line in the sand.” Richards is completely at odds with the stance taken by Hix et al. He?even goes so far as to say that some of those on the list may have signed up because they feared going against some of the heavyweights of the culinary scene. While he admits that chefs don’t necessarily like following recipes, the new regulations have been a “real eye-opener” for Gather & Gather’s staff.

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Some of the allergens are easy to identify, but others are less so.?Richards highlights the example of adding a splash of worcestershire sauce to a lasagne – because of the anchovies, the serving company would have to declare the inclusion of fish. How it does this is open to interpretation. There is no need to label and adjust every menu, but it should be clearly signposted that customers with allergies should speak to a member of staff before ordering. (The Food Standards Agency has a very useful document on its website, with page 13 a good reference point for those in foodservice). According to the Anaphylaxis Campaign, after six months of the new rules performance varies wildly. At the top end are restaurant chains such as JD Wetherspoon that invite customers to use an online menu builder based on their dietary requirements – boxes can be ticked for all 14 of the allergens, as well as for vegetarian or vegan. There’s even a healthy eating option.F35 Cover low res Other examples include pubs where staff have photos of food packaging labels on their phones to show to customers and schools that provide printed allergen information for all meals – even the teas served during cricket matches. Some are still missing the mark, however, with no allergen information?or signage. Some offer general disclaimers – for example, “all our products contain allergens” – that are unacceptable under the new rules, while in other cases the campaigners found staff unable or unwilling to help. Richards – a keen supporter of the campaign and its move to set?up a panel of industry experts to improve compliance with the regulations – says part of the challenge is taking away the “fear” among staff, so they can offer the right information and then it’s up to customers to use it. There have been some unexpected situations as a result of the heightened awareness, however (see Customer Care below). Richards admits that the company’s sites haven’t yet been subjected to the level of policing he expected. “I know we’re ready, though.” Customer Care Gather & Gather’s Allister Richards describes the effect the allergen regulations and increased awareness are having on his staff. “We’ve been running lots of extra training to raise awareness among staff, and that’s been a real eye-opener for our chefs. But it’s also prompting some pretty inspiring interactions between our staff?and our customers. I remember this one scene happening right before my eyes. A customer went to help himself to the porridge, for which there was information regarding the use of 1% milk. Our member of staff leapt out from behind the counter and told the customer he couldn’t eat it, practically snatching the bowl from his hands. ‘I know you always have soya milk in your coffee,’ she said. The customer then explained that whilst milk in coffee didn’t agree with him, it was fine in porridge. Dairy isn’t among the 14 allergens and it wasn’t a textbook approach to protecting our customers, but the sentiment was certainly there. It’s only right and proper that we are responsible and accountable for the food we serve.” As told to David Burrows Editor in Chief of Footprint

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th August 2015

Footprint: the monthly update from the foodservice sustainability champion