48% of diners confused by labelling rules for allergens

Only 52% of diners looking for allergen information understand the labelling regulations, according to new research.

When quizzed about the rules, 23% thought the labelling regulations for food that is freshly prepped and packaged in a food outlet for direct sale (PPDS) and food pre-packed offsite were the same; 25% were unsure whether the rules differed.

Food classified as PPDS does not currently require a full ingredients label with allergens highlighted. Instead, customers are expected to ask staff about possible allergens. Staff should have received training on allergen awareness.

The research, conducted by Navitas, also found that 86% of consumers who look for allergy information will avoid restaurants where staff do not appear confident about allergens in freshly produced food, or where allergen information isn’t clear.

Navitas CEO Ben Gardner said the findings show mandatory full ingredient labelling for PPDS foods are needed. “The current system is simply not consistent and causes confusion,” he said.

Earlier this month, the Food Standards Agency concluded that full ingredient labelling should be mandatory for pre-packed food. The option – one of four being considered by the government – represents “a significant improvement, and greater consistency by following the same labelling system that consumers are familiar with, as found on packaged food”, FSA said. The majority of individuals (73%) responding to the government’s consultation also backed this approach.

However, UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said it would be far better to create “an atmosphere where customers and staff feel confident discussing allergens”. She has urged ministers not to act on the FSA’s recommendations.

Some businesses have already started the process of full labelling on pre-packed foods. One of them is Pret. “I won’t lie to you, when we went live it felt like a hurricane,” said Tom Sugarman, the chain’s UK shops director in an interview with Footprint in April. Still, “it’s the right thing to do” for the two million people in the UK living with allergies who are “disenfranchised” when they go to eat out, he said. “The messages were loud and clear, give me the information I need to make my choice.”

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