The menu stated that we could request an allergen information sheet. A leaflet explaining the Food Information Regulations 2014 (or FIR for short) was swiftly brought to the table.
Since December 13th 2014, this new EU rule insists that caterers provide information on any allergens present in the food they serve. This meal, in a rural Cornish restaurant, was my first experience of the new regulations when eating out during our vacation.
The first part of the booklet appeared to be written for the chef or waiting staff, and explained what allergens should be noted and what effect ingesting them would have on someone with an allergy.
Each item on the menu had to be entered into a table at the back of the booklet. Beside each entry were a number of columns headed with the common allergens. I was interested in the first column - gluten containing ingredients.
Some menu items had a tick or check mark in this column, while others didn’t. After a little confusion we decided that the tick meant that dish was “off the menu” for me.
The confusion lay in the fact that egg, sausage and chips (french fries) was not ticked, indicating it was safe.
Knowing that most sausages are made with either breadcrumbs or rusk, we double checked this entry with the waitress. She went to confirm with the chef, returning to state that as the sausages were made off site they couldn’t guarantee they were gluten free.
She did however, mention, without prompting, that the chips were cooked in a separate fryer and were totally safe.
Taking another look at the menu I discovered Hunters Chicken, described as a chicken breast topped with bacon, cheese and homemade barbecue sauce. With the reassurance that the sauce was made by the chef and definitely gluten free, I decided to go ahead and order the dish.
I have to say my lunch was delicious and I had no ill effects after eating it.
Eating out when on a special diet can be risky, but the new Food Information Regulations 2014 are designed to simplify the process.
My experience has taught me that you have to make decisions based on a certain amount of trust, along with your own knowledge of what is safe to eat.
A new coeliac could have been caught out by the sausage. Hopefully, the fact that I asked will have resulted in a tick in the box, preventing an issue for someone else in the future.
The Food Information Regulations 2014 state that the allergen information for non-packaged foods can be supplied in written form, or orally.
The second pub we ate in did not have a printed sheet, but the lady who took our orders instilled trust immediately.
“No problem at all. I can make you up a plate of roast chicken and all the vegetables without any gravy or Yorkshire pudding.”
She was true to her word and an enormous plate containing carrots, broccoli, swede, leeks, spring greens, roast potatoes and the most succulent chicken arrived not long after.
Again, no ill effects afterwards, resulted in a happy Carol. In fact we chose to go back there on the last evening of our holiday for another meal.
This time she prepared me an appetizing prawn salad with gluten free Marie Rose sauce. “You can even pinch a few of his chips if you like, as we cook them in a separate fryer” she chirped happily. As these had been served on a separate plate I delightedly helped myself to half a dozen.
The new EU Food Information Regulations 2014 also apply to packaged foods. Since December, food labels should have any allergenic ingredients emphasised, normally in bold text, so they are easy to spot.
During our vacation we only had two bad instances. One pub that we visited had a gluten free section on the main menu. Sounds good so far?
But on investigating further it listed steak and kidney pie, without the pastry top, as a gluten free item. Did it have a pastry bottom? Was the gravy safe for me to eat? We didn’t hang around to ask! My confidence in their ability to feed me had already been shattered so we ate elsewhere.
As we had booked a self catering holiday and our accommodation had a kitchen, we decided to cook for ourselves one evening. I really enjoyed the thick rump steak and mushrooms. However, it had dire consequences and I spent the rest of the night in the bathroom. I am not sure where the cross contamination had crept in, but we didn’t repeat the exercise.
From my own viewpoint, I am happy that the new Food Information Regulations 2014 should enable more people on a gluten free diet to eat out safely. If you do spot a mistake, as I did with the sausage, please point it out politely to the establishment you are in, as it will help to educate and may prevent someone else making a mistake.