Declan Mulhare and Dr Pamela Byrne
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) is encouraging food businesses in Longford to provide consumers with allergen information on foods.
The FSAI has released the findings of a national audit that shows an unacceptable level of non-compliance by food businesses nationwide when it comes to providing consumers with accurate written information on 14 specified allergens in non-prepacked food.
A representative sample of 50 food service businesses nationwide including cafés, hotels, public houses, restaurants and takeaways were audited to determine if correct written allergen information was being provided to consumers.
All food businesses are legally obliged to provide consumers with accurate written information in relation to 14 allergens whether the food is prepacked or non-prepacked.
Three in every 100 people in Ireland have a food allergy and they require accurate information about the food they purchase in order to avoid serious and sometimes fatal health consequences.
To stress the gravity of the audit findings and further raise awareness of the legal requirement, the FSAI announced that a national information campaign will roll out today for eight weeks. The FSAI’s new information campaign will run across, print, online and broadcast media with strong messages to highlight the potential consequences that missing or inaccurate allergen information can have on an individual’s health.
The FSAI audited a representative sample of food businesses to determine their compliance with the legal requirements for the provision of written allergen information for their customers. The audit found:
*Almost one third (32%) of food businesses did not provide any written allergen information
* Of the food business that provided written allergen information; just 24% actually provided accurate allergen information
*Twenty six had either left out a foodstuff or incorrectly recorded the allergen content of the food
* Most food businesses audited (88%) had findings that required corrective action
The FSAI noted with concern that many of the food businesses that had not provided written allergen information stated they did not realise that the information must be made available without a consumer having to ask for it. In some cases, the FSAI found that allergen information had been provided, but it was either inaccurate or not easily accessible for consumers without assistance from staff.
Many of the food businesses audited used online delivery companies or provided takeaway services, but there was no information provided to their customers on the allergen content of the food products being ordered and delivered.
Dr Pamela Byrne, Chief Executive, FSAI stated that the findings of the audit are very worrying as they indicate a lack of awareness or willingness by food service businesses to prioritise the safety of people with food allergies two years after the law came into effect.
“Allergic reactions to food make people ill and in particular situations can be fatal. Whether consumers are eating out, getting takeaways or having food delivered to their home or workplace, food businesses have a legal obligation to provide accurate food allergen information in writing. The level of non-compliance we have identified through this audit is a cause for major concern. Food businesses must take action immediately to protect public health and to comply with the law. The FSAI and enforcement officials have provided a significant level of resources and support to assist food businesses to understand the food allergens they work with on a daily basis and how they can meet their legal obligations.”
The FSAI found that some of the reasons put forward by food businesses for the high level of non-compliance included confusion and lack of awareness about the 14 food allergens that must be declared. Some of the food businesses audited had hired consultants to help put the allergen information in place. However, they still did not fully understand the health risks posed by food allergens and that providing written allergen information to consumers was an on-going process rather than just a once-off project.
“Food businesses must take their legal responsibilities seriously, particularly where the health of consumers is at stake. We are undertaking a nationwide campaign to raise awareness by the food industry of the consumer health risks posed by allergic reactions and that they need to take immediate action. Our information campaign is supported by the HSE environmental health officers throughout the country. They will be advising the food businesses they visit of their legal obligation to provide allergen information in writing to consumers and will provide them with a number of additional helpful materials that will assist in achieving compliance. The HSE will take enforcement action, when it is deemed appropriate or necessary,” she concluded.
The FSAI’s free online tool MenuCal also provides an easy to manage allergen information system which enables food businesses to easily identify which allergens are in the foods they have prepared.
For more information on how to comply with the legal requirements, food businesses can visit www.fsai.ie/allergens
The FSAI’s Targeted Audit of Allergen Information on Non-Prepacked Food is available on its website.