Restaurants say they are not ready for allergen ruling
14 allergens must be declared on menus from Saturday
The Restaurants Association has called for an urgent meeting with Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
The Restaurants Association of Ireland has called for an urgent meeting with Minister for Health Leo Varadkar over a new rule requiring all menus to carry information on 14 allergens.
The regulations will come into force on Saturday, but chief executive of the association Adrian Cummins said the regulation was being foisted on restaurants with little warning and most restaurateurs did not know what was expected of them.
Under the European Union regulation, from Saturday all food-serving businesses will be obliged to inform customers of the presence of allergens such as nuts, fish, milk, soybeans and eggs.
Mr Cummins asked why Ireland did not follow the lead of most other European countries by allowing restaurant staff to verbally outline the presence of allergens, rather than forcing restaurants to include them on menus.
The United Kingdom has chosen the verbal option and he predicted that anomalies would arise. “So you might have a train leaving the station in Belfast for Dublin and half way down they need to have allergen information on the food. If you’re doing meals on wheels you have to provide that information to people receiving the food,” he said.
“All of this is absolutely red tape gone mad. We’ve been dealing with customers with allergies in a professional manner for years and there’s no reason why we can’t continue to do that on a verbal basis.”
“We are looking for an urgent meeting with the Minister for Health to discuss the logistics of how this is going to be implemented,” he said.
“There’s a huge fear factor out there for restaurants with regards to liability. Every food business, and there are 45,000 of them in the country, needs to get a letter explaining exactly what is required of them.” The regulations were introduced by the Department of Health and a spokesman said Mr Varadkar would be happy to meet the restaurant owners. He said the measure was designed to inform and protect the public, especially those with life-threatening allergies.
The decision to opt for written allergen warnings on menus was made after an extensive consultation process. “Responses were received from 237 consumers and 39 food business operators,” he said. The spokesman said providing written warnings would give proof for the business owner that the customer had been correctly informed of the allergen content of the food.
He said Ireland was not alone in the option for written information about allergens and noted that France, Croatia and the Netherlands had also chosen this.
The regulation is being implemented by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and its chief food technology specialist, Dr Pat O’Mahony, said he had been doing all he could to explain the new rule.
He had been on the road in recent weeks informing the industry about the change in rules and more briefings were planned. The explanatory leaflet had also been updated on its website, fsai.ie, to make it easier for restaurateurs to understand.