For people with food allergies, dining out can be stressful and in some cases, life-threatening or fatal.
This week the grieving family of Owen Carey, who died from anaphylactic shock after unwittingly eating Byron Burger’s buttermilk marinated chicken, demanded a change in the law to compel eateries to display full and clear allergen information on menus.
Under current laws for non pre-packed food, restaurants and other eateries must tell customers if any of their dishes contain the 14 most common allergens – either via a menu, chalkboard, information pack or verbally through staff members.
But critics argue the rules leave too much room for error and that the food industry should be doing more to keep customers with allergies safe.
So what can restaurants and eateries do to help? And do restaurant customers have a role as well?
Interactive allergen menus
Many restaurants and eateries already display allergen menus on their websites, including the 14 most common allergens, next to each dish.
And some restaurants’ online menus – such as Carluccio’s and Zizzi – allow customers to filter out foods by their allergy, which helps them make an informed choice about what they might eat.
For other restaurants, interactive allergen menu services like Menu Guide can help them cater to the estimated two million people in the UK with a diagnosed food allergy .
The online tool allows food retailers to customise their menus with the allergens in each dish, before they are added to the Menu Guide website.
Customers can view the menus 24/7 and filter out dishes according to their allergies or dietary needs.
Waiting staff can use Menu Guide on a tablet while taking customers’ orders to ensure they are providing accurate allergy and dietary information.
Restaurateur Andrei Lussmann, of Lussmanns Sustainable Fish & Grill, says his staff use Menu Guide because it reduces the risk of errors and allows them to spend more time serving the customer rather than worrying about allergens.
“We make sure that that the ingredients in the menu are correct and have been updated by someone who sits at a desk, rather than a busy manager in a restaurant,” he says.
‘Being open about ingredients’
Whether or not interactive menus are available, campaigners say all food outlets need to be totally open about the ingredients they use
Nathalie Newman, 38, started her Intolerant Gourmand blog after her son Callum, seven, was diagnosed with 28 allergies, eight of which are life-threatening.
She now advises chefs and restaurants on ensuring their menus are allergy-compliant.
Full declaration of ingredients is the best way forward, she says.
“No one wants to know how restaurants make their secret recipes.
“They can stay secret, but the only thing that the allergy community are desperate to know is what all the ingredients in the dishes are – because it keeps them safe.”