More than eight in 10 consumers who look for allergy information expect kitchens to have up-to-date technology and systems to minimise the risk posed from allergens, it has emerged.
The expectation that operators will have invested in kitchen systems to manage the allergen process follows research carried out by the Navitas Group into the issue of food labelling.
Earlier this month, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) revealed plans to back mandatory ingredient labelling for foods that are pre-packed for direct sale (PPDS).
But a poll of 2,000 consumers carried out by Navitas suggests there is still massive confusion around existing food allergen labelling, putting customers at risk and leaving operators vulnerable to blame.
It found that almost half (48%) of those who said they look for allergen information when eating out were not fully aware of the different labelling regulations around food freshly prepped and packaged in a food outlet for direct sale and food pre-packed offsite.
While 52% of people who look for allergen information do understand the different allergen labelling regulations, 23% thought that the labelling regulations for food freshly prepped and packaged in a food outlet for direct sale and food pre-packed offsite were the same and 25% were unsure whether the rules differed.
Currently, food classed as PPDS does not need to have a full ingredients label with allergens highlighted. Instead, it is expected that customers themselves ask staff about possible allergens and that staff have received training around allergen awareness.
The FSA believes that full ingredient labelling will deliver a significant improvement on current practices, and greater consistency by following the same labelling system that consumers are familiar with, as found on packaged food. Navitas’ said its insight confirms the need for this approach.
Over half (53%) of respondents who look for allergen information said they tend to seek such information on a label in the first instance, while only 24% said they would ask staff first.
When asked directly about PPDS food, some 70% said allergens were an item of information they would expect to find on the label of a sandwich or food item freshly prepared and packed for direct sale.
This was the most frequently cited option after the best before date (71%) and before the date prepared (65%), nutritional information (54%) and calories (50%).
Additionally, 86% of consumers who look for allergy information avoid restaurants where serving and waiting staff do not appear confident about allergens in freshly produced food or where allergen information isn’t clear.
More than three quarters (77%) of those who look for allergy information would be put off eating at restaurants and other food outlets that had breached allergen regulations within the last three months. This compares to 37% of consumers in general.
Ben Gardner, CEO of Navitas Group, said the results of the poll highlight why there needs to be mandatory full ingredient labelling for foods that are pre-packed for direct sale.
“The current system is simply not consistent and causes confusion. Our message to food businesses wondering how to get to grips with allergen labelling is that it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee a day there are simple and easy to understand solutions which will not only safeguard your business but also protect and reassure your customers.”
A full copy of the report can be downloaded HERE.