For those businesses operating in the F&B industry, it won’t come as a great surprise that big changes are afoot. On 13 December 2014 the new EU regulations for allergens and food labelling come into force. For many food service operators, December is one of the busiest trading periods of the year and yet this year, it comes with an extra helping of new legislation to contend with. Having worked with restaurateurs, hoteliers, food service and publicans for many years, I can certainly empathise and relate to the problems that many in this sector will face.
One of the biggest worries about the changes to the regulations is the impact that updating this constant stream of product and recipe data will have on already ‘stretched’ catering/foodservice teams. So, what should we be aware of regarding these changes and how can businesses prepare adequately in advance of the approaching December deadline?
If we look at the crux of the changes, the idea behind these is to help people who suffer from food allergies, coeliac disease and other food-related health problems by giving them more widely accessible information on the foods they are purchasing and consuming. As such, the most important change is the addition of allergen alerts that will need to be displayed to the customer at all food service counters from December. The next consideration is food labelling and consumer advice. This takes the form of nutritional analysis based on a percentage of ‘Reference Intakes’ replacing the current ‘Guideline Daily Amounts’ and the new traffic light format with Nutrient Reference Values replacing Recommended Daily Allowance.
Some have suggested that the extra burden on admin and the resource needed for food service companies to meet the new regulations could hamper creativity and kill innovation. But I think that is unlikely. Creativity should not be at stake; as long as the guidelines are followed correctly. Yes, the changes will inevitably mean higher costs for food service businesses but there is also a heavy system of fines in place for those operators who fail to meet their obligations.
Remember where the buck stops: tips and pointers for business
- Do your research. Don’t ignore it, read up on the changes and ensure you and your team understand the rules. Then make a plan.
- Follow the guidelines set out and ensure the business has a disclaimer stating that the information is as accurate as possible (as a backup for fresh produce).
- Don’t use disclaimers as a fail-safe, though. Face facts that you are going to need to start using an effective control system so that you can establish and demonstrate for example, the nutritional value of scrambled eggs per 100g (plus the allergens present).
- Be aware that it is also your suppliers’ responsibility to meet the legislative requirements so everything that comes into the business should be labelled with allergen information as appropriate. Don’t take no for an answer.
- Brief your staff – remember that your staff will be expected to be able to answer any questions from customers about allergens present within the food and drink you are serving. It is important that they have the right training to ensure they are giving out the correct information and that they understand the potential risks of advising customers incorrectly (or worse), negligently.
- Remember where the buck stops: your eggs and milk might arrive from your supplier correctly labelled but once you have made a batch of scrambled eggs, it then becomes your responsibility to inform the customer.
- Look at creating an Allergen Directory of all of the products and ingredients purchased by the business as well as for any recipes which have allergens present. This means you’ll start to build a bank of useable data that is constantly evolving.
- Recognise the impact this will have on your resource and plan around it. Ideally look for the support of good technology that is fit for purpose, to help manage that data. Having a database that links directly to a live supplier priced purchase order system would be of huge benefit as it will help you save the extra money that the system and protection from the regulations will cost. It will also go some way to reducing the paper chase too.
- For restaurant menus it is useful to include an allergen alert box next to each dish to identify items on the menu which contain allergens. That helps the customer to see the information for themselves.
- Remember that preparation is always key; don’t leave planning until the last minute.
Jerry Brand is managing director at F&B firm Caternet