The leading medical charity on allergies in the UK said they were looking to raise awareness of the social impact of food intolerances as well as the physical effects.
Research conducted by Allergy UK shows over three quarters of sufferers had changed their attitudes to eating out as a result of their condition. One case-study highlighted by the charity is of 18-year-old Alice Murdock who has never eaten out at a restaurant and is, the charity claims, not alone.
Another statistic released by the charity suggests 24 per cent of UK adults treat people with food allergies as merely 'fussy' eaters which Allergy UK deputy chief executive Lindsey McManus said highlighted the need for guidelines for restaurants in particular.
“Unfortunately there is currently no legislation for restaurants, or the hospitality industry in general when it comes to listing allergens on menus. It is down to the individual outlet as to whether they choose to take a proactive role in providing this information for allergy sufferers. The Food Standards Agency offers a comprehensive on line training module that restaurant staff can access via the FSA website, but again this is not enforced," McManus said.
Despite 45 per cent of the population suffering from an intolerance and 2 per cent living with an allergy, Allergy UK say the biggest problem generally and for the hospitality industry is a lack of information.
People with a food intolerance feel very unwell after eating the offending food, often many hours later, and allergy sufferers have an immediate immune system response which can often be life threatening.
Call the chef
With small errors potentially leading to diners suffering health problems, Allergy UK advise restaurants to take dietary requests seriously and allow guests to speak to the kitchen staff beforehand for reassurance.
"We always advise callers to our helpline to speak to the restaurant, and preferably the chef, prior to visiting, to see if they will be able to cater for them. Understanding how important it is for someone to be able to eat out safely is paramount and often by speaking to the chef beforehand the customer will be able to dine out in the knowledge that their allergies or intolerances are understood," McManus said.
An EU regulation on food information was passed by the European Commission in October 2011 that changes legislation on highlighting allergens comes into force on 13 December 2014 but the implementation decisions for each country have not yet been fully confirmed.
Speaking to BigHospitality John Dyson, food and technical affairs adviser at the British Hospitality Association (BHA), said that discussions still needed to take place with Defra and the FSA on how the regulation would be implemented.
"Some people in the Commission think it could be put on all menus, whereas we think mandatory available means it will be available if people ask for it," he said.
Dyson agrees that raising awareness is important but denies that this needs to be enforced training. "The key really is making sure that staff are trained to answer questions, not guess," he said.
Food Allergy & Intolerance Week is 23-29 January 2012.