That’s the view of allergen experts, who are urging restaurateurs to comply with new rules on providing allergen information to customers, following the death of university student Shahida Shahid last month.
The 18-year-old collapsed from a suspected allergic reaction following a meal at Almost Famous burger restaurant in the Great Northern Warehouse and died three days later in intensive care.
The incident happened just weeks after new laws came into force, which require restaurants to tell customers if any of 14 specific food allergens are in the food they serve.
Coroner Nigel Meadows said the case, which is continuing, was “a timely reminder” about the requirements – a view backed by campaign group Allergy UK. “This highlights just how serious an allergy can be, and how seriously the condition needs to be taken,” says clinical director Maureen Jenkins.
“The anecdotal feedback we have had from our supporters shows catering outlets are complying in varying degrees. We recognise that with any legislation it takes time for the changes to take effect and there is more work to be done.”
Commenting generally on wider trends in the sector and not on the circumstances of the death of Shahid, Caroline Benjamin, founder of Food Allergy Awareness Training, says many caterers have yet to fully comply with the new rules, leaving their businesses at risk if something goes wrong.
“Staff are paying lip service to the new regulations, but not properly adhering to them. If they are not sure, they should refer to a manager or expert who must be able to provide details on whether allergens are in dishes, but this isn’t always happening.”
She adds that written information provided by restaurants is often incorrect or not updated properly.
At consultancy Allergy Aware Kitchen, founder Liz Allan believes the publicity surrounding the Shahid case could have a “domino effect”, encouraging local authorities to enforce the new regulations more strictly
and motivating restaurants to make sure they are complying. “It will have a massive effect,” she says. “Any grace period [after the allergen laws were introduced] is now gone.”
Almost Famous declined to comment on the incident while investigations were ongoing.
The Allergens to be aware of:
The 14 allergens that restaurants must provide both verbal and written information on are: gluten, fish, shellfish, eggs, peanuts, other nuts, soy beans, milk, celery, mustard, sesame seeds, sulphur dioxide, lupin and molluscs. According to the Food Standards Agency, on average, 10 people die and about 5,000 are hospitalised every year due to allergic reactions. Hospital admissions relating to allergies rose by 87 per cent between 2002 and 2014 with the majority of cases caused by incorrect information being given about allergenic ingredients in foods when people are eating out.
This article was first published in the February issue of Restaurant magazine, out today. To view the digital edition click here. To subscribe click here.