Visitors with Food Intolerance or Special Dietary Requirements
For visitors who have intolerance or are allergic to certain foods, and those who require special diets, owners or managers of restaurants, cafes and other food outlets in the European Union must establish the right procedures for:
- providing the right information on ingredients and
- ensuring absence of allergens in food and drink
- offering suitable meals for people who require certain types of meals due to health reasons, personal preferences or religious beliefs.
In all these cases, it is important that providers have an awareness of the various customers’ dietary requirements. In addition there must be clear and consistent communication between those who prepare the food and drink and those who take the orders and serve customers. This applies both to pre-packed foods, such as in-flight meals on aircraft, and meals that are prepared on the premises.
It is increasingly common that customers ask for special meals, for example, people who are gluten intolerant (coeliacs) or allergic to lactose, nuts or shellfish. Customers may also be vegans or vegetarians, or they may ask for low-sodium or low-fat meals due to their health condition. Some require food that is prepared according to certain religious customs, e.g. Kosher or Hallal butchered meat, or dishes without pork.
Labelling and declaration of allergens
Labelling of ingredients on pre-packed foods must include information on possible allergens. Legislation covering this subject is the EU Regulation No. 78/2014. Annex II of the lists 14 allergens that must be labelled or indicated as being in present in foods. These are:
- Cereals containing gluten, namely: wheat (such as spelt and khorasan wheat), rye, barley, oats
- Crustaceans for example prawns, crabs, lobster, crayfish
- Milk (including lactose)
- Nuts; namely almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachio nuts, macadamia (or Queensland) nuts
- Celery (including celeriac)
- Sulphur dioxide/sulphites, where added and at a level above 10mg/kg or 10mg/L in the finished product. This can be used as a preservative in dried fruit
- Lupin, which includes lupin seeds and flour and can be found in types of bread, pastries and pasta
- Molluscs like, mussels, whelks, oysters, snails and squid.
The EU Regulation states that: Allergenic ingredients need to be emphasised using a typeset that clearly distinguishes it from the rest of the ingredients, for example by means of bold font, style or background colour. Food businesses can choose what method they want to use to emphasise the 14 allergens on their product label.
Some catering suppliers and restaurants use pictograms which are shown on menus with a Key. See Ryanair example.
Chefs and catering personnel should be trained in how to prepare meals for those who require special diets.
“Good practice” in informing customers about allergens and ingredients includes:
- Providing allergy and special diet information both in printed menus and on the company’s website
- Service personnel (e.g. waiters) being trained and informed about how to provide allergy and special diet information verbally to customers on request.
- Picture menus are a useful aid when explaining the menu or dishes to customers, in particular for those who are unfamiliar with local cuisine or do not know the local language.
With regard to ensuring the absence of allergens in food and drink, kitchen and catering staff must follow procedures to avoid cross-contamination of foods. This is achieved by having separate storage units or areas, separate food preparation areas and also separate utensils and kitchen cutlery. Strict adherence to rules for keeping foodstuffs and ingredients separate should be maintained at all times.
Given the increasing numbers of persons with food allergies, such as coeliacs, who cannot tolerate gluten, and persons who cannot tolerate lactose and milk products, a number of consumer organisations have emerged in recent years who give advice to people with allergies. Some associations also have user reviews of restaurants on their websites and campaign actively to inform businesses about the need for a variety of meal choices and improved services for those with special dietary requirements.
Evaluation of catering outlets with regard to food intolerance and special diets is a specialised subject, requiring expert assessment.
- Training: on coeliac disease and gluten-free cooking. It is essential that chefs and cooks and trained on a specific course by the business owner or his representative (legal representative) and by the production manager and the self-control plan, if the operator is different from those listed;
- Consulting and evaluation: ad hoc checks at the facility, for the evaluation of the menu, identification of areas and procedures suitable for processing gluten-free products;
- Periodic checks: monitoring at the facility performed 1 or 2 times a year. These inspections are designed to verify the maintenance of the agreed requirements and to support the exercise in the service undertaken;
- Communication: visibility of the venue as “Coeliac-friendly” / “Gluten-free meals available” through the channels of the national association and, consequently, of the European association.
Regarding the needs of people with coeliac disease, the review is based on the following points:
- selection and supply of correct raw materials: foods that can be consumed freely as naturally gluten-free or belonging to food categories not at risk for celiac. particular attention must be paid to foods in which gluten may be present as an added ingredient or as a processing residue;
- adequate storage of raw materials: identify areas exclusively for gluten-free products. They can be simple containers or entire cabinets and fridge, the key thing is to mark them with a symbol or with the words “gluten-free”;
- adequate production phase: worktops, instrumentation, clothing and tools must be dedicated solely to the use of gluten-free processing;
- respectful customer service and correct information: clothing, dishes and cutlery, tablecloths and napkins must be carefully cleaned and dedicated to coeliac customers. The presence of any allergens must be communicated, through appropriate supports (menu, sign, blackboard, register), well visible to customers.
At the end of the evaluation phase, a business obtains the gluten-free stamp or certificate and is included in the list of facilities that can be used by coeliac clients, a fundamental network for those who have this type of requirement.
The assessment process continues, however, also daily, through the coeliac customers who can report to the reference association any anomalies or problems related to gluten-free, possibly found in a business.
Such feedback is very useful because it allows the association to intervene promptly in response to specific problems, allowing the business concerned to improve its service.
In the event of a negative report, the staff of the coeliac association will check the business, with the aim of solving the problems and allowing the venue to remain in the network, helping the owner to resolve the difficulties.
The system therefore requires the certificate holder to apply all the necessary measures to correct and/or prevent the anomaly, and verify that remedial actions have been taken.
Only in the event of serious non-compliance and inability to resolve the problem would the venue be eliminated from the network.
Contents developed by
1). AIC – Associazione Italiana Celiachia;
2). UK Food Standards Agency: https://allergytraining.food.gov.uk/english/rules-and-legislation/
3). European Commission, Food information to consumers – legislation. https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/labelling_nutrition/labelling_legislation_en