Is technology the answer for outlets reacting to proposed changes in food labelling?
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has proposed that food outlets should list all ingredients in order to protect customers with allergies, recommending that ministers adopt strict new rules. The government said it welcomed the agency's input, adding: "We are working at pace to bring forward legislation that ensures food allergy sufferers can feel safe and secure."
Anthony Eccles, Sales Director at Access Procure Wizard, a leading software provider to the UK hospitality industry, explains why it’s so important to get it right and how technology can help.
“With an estimated 10% of UK adults and children having a food hypersensitivity and a further 20% of the population experiencing reactions to foods which make them believe they have a food hypersensitivity, there’s a growing need for food operators to take the lead in safeguarding customers health. Provision of accurate allergen information is under the spotlight once again and there’s no compromise on making sure it’s incorporated into every business.
“As customers become more nutritionally aware, it’s up to operators to think ahead and make sure they’re ready to meet their needs head on. Not only does it keep customers happy, but it will future proof your business for the increasing likelihood of legislation in the future and protect against any illness befalling your customers.
“Since the Food Information Regulations 2014 came into effect in December 2014, it has been necessary to provide information on 14 allergenic ingredients, from nuts to fish, eggs to mustard and soybeans to cereals containing gluten. Where food is not pre-packaged, alternative options to labelling are made available with pubs and bars/restaurants/eating out venues* often choosing to either note ingredients on their menus or asking customers to discuss their allergies with a Manager or Chef.
“But recent events have shown that, no matter how well-intentioned an invitation to discuss allergies might be, there are still circumstances where not making allergens highly visible can have tragic consequences. The FSA has raised its call for stricter rules to be introduced and it’s a matter of time before further regulations are brought in to protect the public. In the meantime, staff can be left unsure, and even scared, about what information must and should be shared with customers.
“There are solutions at hand, though, that equip staff with all the information they need, alongside other relevant nutritional details that are also likely to come under greater scrutiny. With a rising expectation for operators to display calorie content, operators must ensure they provide the information of both allergen and calorie details accurately and quickly with minimal impact on time and costs.
“By integrating technology into the end to end kitchen process, customers can be readily and proactively advised of allergen and nutritional data, with staff having the confidence that it is legally compliant and 100% accurate.
“Systems such as Access Procure Wizard provide a comprehensive control procedure in which all products and prices are maintained by suppliers giving operators a full picture of the allergen and nutritional information every time they build a menu and place an order. Such solutions meet all the requirements, giving total visibility across the entire kitchen management system and maintaining robust business management processes. Using technology helps operators analyse cost, waste, sales and profitability when creating their recipes and menus so that business budgets and targets are achieved, providing consistency and peace of mind across multiple locations. And, rather than taking time to implement and manage, using an appropriate system will actually reduce the time taken by existing manual processes as well as guaranteeing accuracy.
“Recent research from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in partnership with Allergy UK & Anaphylaxis campaign studied the attitudes of 16-24 years olds in respect of eating out behaviours. Data showed that children and young adults are disproportionately more prone to die from an allergic reaction than adults, with research showing that 64% of food allergy sufferers had avoided eating out in the last 6 months and almost two thirds (59%) who did eat out tended to dine in the same places. Can your business afford not to be one of those venues that attracts repeat visits?
“From their research, the resulting FSA campaign ‘Easy to ASK’ is designed to empower young people to ask food businesses about allergens when eating out, so that they can make safe choices and is also a reminder to businesses to be up front about the provision of accurate allergen information. Asking a customer if they have food allergies could save a life. Without the accurate information to hand, how many businesses or members of staff will be prepared to offer that opportunity? By using appropriate technology, with customer conversation prompting, this could – and should - become a default position for operators using appropriate cloud-based technology, making sure that they become one of those regular dining venues for customers seeking a safe environment to return to regularly.
“This isn’t the time to wait for new legislation, now is the time for operators to seize the initiative and take the business advantage that technology can provide. Rather than hoping someone else will resolve the queries around allergen details, now is the time to safeguard your customers and business by installing a kitchen management system that integrates with a suite of tools. One that culminates in a single touch point to control all business costs, improve efficiency, increase profitability and streamline processes whilst meeting the need to provide clear and accurate nutritional information with minimum effort and absolute confidence.”