Well this morning the allergic community has been up in arms at recent coverage of the new EU regulations about food allergens.
You can read the whole article here in the Telegraph, “EU chefs attack new EU regulations in allergens in food”.
In December last year a new law made it necessary for anyone selling food prepared on the premises from small cafes, restaurants and pubs to schools and other institutions and catering firms to understand where allergens may be present in their food either by design or by cross contamination and then to communicate that in writing or verbally.
For those of us with allergies, many of us with multiple allergies, this could make a huge difference to our quality of life.
This is my response to all 100 of you lucky so and so’s. Most of whom can eat and cook what you want to, whenever you want to. So listen up Telegraph and Albert Roux, Mark Hix and Thomasina Miers, the founder of Wahaca.
Now you all have every right to make whatever comments you want about the new regulations and have apparently made your grievances known by writing to The Telegraph in droves saying exactly what you think but I think you’ve all got your creative wires a bit crossed.
You say that the new regs are…
…hurting “spontaneity, creativity and innovation”
Really? If you don’t want to cater for me, as an allergic diner, you don’t have to. I’m quite happy to eat elsewhere. There are plenty of restaurants who are already catering very well for allergic diners.
You carry on. You add butter to every dish and fill your kitchens with allergens to the rafters.
I completely get what you’re all saying, but I don’t agree. It’s just moaning and whining.
All you have to do is carry on regardless but make damn sure that you communicate to anyone asking for information that none of your food is safe.
The article also says, “They must display information on 14 allergens including rare allergies such as mustard seeds and Lupin, or face fines of up to £5,000 for any infraction of the rules.”
Well actually the regulations require you to know, and communicate. This can be done verbally but that does give quite a huge margin for error and does need to written down somewhere for training purposes.
But I’m assuming you do know what goes into your food? You don’t just hurl in random ingredients. Oh maybe you do. Maybe that is what creativity and flare is all about. Shut your eyes, feel about for something and shove it in the pot. I know I’m being slightly childish here but this makes me mad.
I know there is a lot of thought going on as to how flavours work and how a good meal is created.
You also say that
these new allergen regulations will cost the restaurant industry £200 million a year
What an incredible figure! It’s just the usual nonsense, pick a number out of the air and create a stir because most people read stuff and believe it. I’d love to know how you arrived at this amount of money.
My advice to you is carry on as you are. Just take the lazy route as many others will.
Keep your menu as it is and nurture your flare and creativity to your heart’s content.
But take a look at what some of your competitors are doing and you will realise that they have quietly been getting to grips with these regulations. Did you know they’ve actually been on their way for two years now? Many of the actual Top Chefs and other smaller establishments already have separate, much shorter menus for allergic diners.
We’re not asking for every dish to be completely free from allergens.
I suggest you go and actually read the regulations and understand what they mean to you.
And if you don’t want allergic diners to cramp your style then make absolutely certain that all your staff know this and can tell anyone who asks.
The fact that you cannot try to offer just one dish that might be free from even one allergen shows a complete lack of understanding, empathy, care and if I’m honest, creativity.
I’m sure you would be devastated if a dish you prepared made people ill due to poor food hygiene.
So why can’t you make the very simple connection here. Allergens make a small number of the population really sick and in some cases, people die from anaphylaxis from food they’ve eaten.
If you prepared a meal for someone, knowing they had an allergy, and didn’t understand the dish and in so doing, gave them a meal that made them so ill they died from anaphylaxis, how would you feel?
I don’t think you’d ever get over that if you thought you could have avoided it by listening and understanding.
Please just promise me one thing – that you will read the regulations, learn what they mean, what the 14 allergens are and tell your customers if these are or may be present in your food
This is all I ask. And if you don’t know, admit that. I’d rather know that the chef’s have swapped shifts and you can’t guarantee something is safe. I’ll choose something else. I will be guided by you as to what dish is easiest for you to prepare.
And if you restaurant is not safe, I’m quite happy to eat before I go out, I often take my own food etc. I will always check before going to any restaurant. I will never just turn up without finding out whether my allergens can be catered for.
I take most of the risk. I have to weigh up what I’m told on the phone, how the chef reacts, what food is offered to me. I have to remain vigilant at all times.
It’s a bureaucratic nightmare
The article focuses on the difficulty of having to audit the whole menu and list where allergens are present. You don’t have to do this. Get your facts straight! Obviously if you wanted to make it easy for your diners, your staff etc. then updating menus with allergens present would be one way of doing it.
But you don’t have to do this. You are all making so much more of these new regulations than you need to.
If you can tell me something is OK, that’s fine with me. But if it’s not written down how does anyone remember the allergens present?
Many establishments will highlight a few dishes that are suitable and steer diners towards these safer meals that they can handle creating.
Don’t make this hard for yourselves.
You don’t have to recreate the wheel. It’s really not that hard. McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and many other chain restaurants have had allergen bible’s now for years. I can see how that will not always work in a fine dining restaurant or small bistro where a menu might change regularly.
So if you don’t want to cater for people with allergens, just tell us. We’ll all go somewhere else.
Miss Miers, who won BBC cookery competition Masterchef in 2005, said: “It is a total fiasco and in my view is the responsibility of the allergee to ask, no the restaurateurs to list. I had a severe allergy for 6 years so coming at it from both sides of the fence.”
First of all, I’m not sure allergee is a real word but we get what you mean. And I agree, it is totally my responsibility as the ‘allergee’ to ask and I always advise everyone with allergies to phone ahead, never just turn up somewhere unannounced. It’s a dangerous game when it comes to eating out with allergies.
But for this to work there must be some responsibility on the restaurant, not necessarily to list but to communicate in a sensible and sensitive way.
And to Miss Miers, who says she had ‘a severe allergy for 6 years’, I must say you’re lucky. Did your allergy just go away? Or was it in fact an intolerance? or were you miraculously cured? Did you find it hard to eat out with your allergy? What were you allergic to? or should this actually read, I have had a severe allergy for 6 years? Either way you should be in a great position to understand these regulations and find a way that your restaurant can work with them.
And finally, to ‘No Clue Prue’
Dear Prue Leith
As the spokesperson for this campaign you really did get quite a bit of coverage on most radio stations but honestly, listening just made me so angry.
You have such a great position to make positive change and yet your attitude to allergies beggars belief. The things you said on the radio will only serve to make eating for those with allergies harder, more dangerous and more of a challenge.
You said, and I quote, “most of these so called allergies don’t even make people that sick…”
This is such an irresponsible thing to say. It may be your opinion but I can assure you that my allergies are very VERY real. I have had many full on anaphylactic reactions resulting in A&E admission. Most of them have happened after eating out, after asking for a safe meal and being given something that either contained my allergen or had cross contamination.
Needless to say I am very careful where I eat now.
But why should I never eat out again and stay at home?
I think this happens because of the widely held belief that we are making this up, that allergies are all in our heads, that the reaction can’t be that bad anyway.
I suggest you read the regulations, learn what the 14 allergens are and also find out what anaphylaxis really is because by the sound of it you have no idea.
To suggest this issue is not important just because some people say they have an allergy and then eat the very same food later on is irrelevant. Keep all your customers safe and you are doing a great service to those with true life threatening allergies. Every company has customers who waste their time, that’s just life. But some of us do have a true allergy.
Change is needed
No one likes change.
No one, least of all it seems, chefs, being told what they can and cannot do or cook.
Can we not move away from this boring argument about your flare and creativity being stifled and instead put it to good use?
I challenge you all to create just one dish that doesn’t contain allergens. Just one.
So that your allergic diners can choose that.
It is entirely possible and could be very simple.
Then take a look at what your competitors are doing. How are they handling these new regulations?
I think you’ll find that most allergic diners don’t want you to restrict every dish and stifle your creativity. We’re quite used to sitting next to people enjoying amazing food while we enjoy something simple, safe and allergen free. That is the price we pay for daring to eat out and I am happy if that is all that’s available.
But when someone is prepared to go the extra mile and make my experience just as enjoyable as my non allergic friends it is a truly memorable experience.
These guys can do it. They all have simple menus for the allergic diner. These meals and these meals alone are made to the same structure and preparation. The rest of your whole menu can be dedicated to your much loved creativity and flare.
I will happily go somewhere else with my crowd of greedy, champagne and wine drinking friends.
Unlike you they do care about the fact that it is so hard for me to integrate and eat out, they want me to be with them so I chose where we go.
Remember that – the allergic diner chooses. We have the power and we will not stay at home. So what would you say to me if I phoned your restaurant?
If I told you I was severely allergic to all nuts, all dairy (I mean cow, goat and sheep here not eggs), wheat, celery, tomato and soya. I’m guessing you’d recoil in horror. I truly am quite probably, every chefs worst nightmare.
But turn that on its head and you’ll see that I CAN eat all meat, all fish, all poultry, all vegetables (well nearly) , all fruit and all grains apart from wheat. I can eat herbs, spices and oils (just not nut oils) and I am really not that fussy.
So what are you going to do about it?
You can read what Michelle Berridale-Johnson, the brains behind the new FreeFrom Eating out Awards thinks about this recent article here, “Top chefs attack EU regulations, again…”
And here, the Intolerant Gourmand asks, What are the Top Chefs so afraid of?
Alex Gazzola, health journalist says, The Food sensitive community: not fair game for political point scoring.
Dairy free Baby and Me shared, 100 chefs – why I’m not bovvered
And a great reply to the 100 chefs from Chef Hermes, The Reply: 100 top chefs write to the Daily Telegraph
My radio interview about the allergen regulations
Within hours of sharing this blog, BBC Radio 5 Live contacted me to ask me if I would join the Phil Williams show that evening so of course agreed. For 30 days you can listen to the interview here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b054p096 Skip to 25 mins unless you want endless drivvle about Jeremy Clarkson.
A huge thanks to Radio 5 Live, Phil Williams et al for giving me the chance to put across the allergic diner’s perspective. We heard a lot from #noclueprue so it was about time we had our say.
If you’d have asked me over breakfast that morning what my day had in store I would not have predicted this!
The campaign has sparked so much anger and also positivity amongst the allergy community. Twitter has been awash with tweets and blogs about the subject.
We all agree, before any of you go on and on with your moaning, get your facts straight and if you would like to discuss this with a real allergic diner I’m right here. Just leave a comment; I would love to debate this with you.
I bet none of you will… now there’s a challenge…
And finally, in the words of one my favourite celebrity chefs Delia Smith.
WHERE ARE YOU? LET’S BE HAVING YOU!
Because all the 100 chefs have gone very quiet since this news broke! Come on chefs – tell us what you all think. Do you agree with the 100 chefs or do you have another point of view? Join in the debate below…