By the time you read this, the 13 December 2014 deadline to comply with the new EU regulations regarding allergen labelling and customer information will have been and gone.
According to a Caternet survey, only one third of hospitality operators said that they were 100% ready for the new legislation, which applies to any business that provides food and beverages to the public.
In busy working environments, it is easy to understand how plans to prepare for the new regulations could get sidelined or postponed, especially since the deadline fell in the busy run-up to Christmas. According to the same survey, one in five companies has yet to make any preparations for the new law, which requires operators to keep a systematic record of the allergens present in their dishes and communicate this information to customers.
So what could happen to those businesses that are not fully compliant? The hospitality team at law firm Pitmans LLP says: “The Regulation does not supply any indications about a sanction regime, which means that such regimes are not harmonized at a European level. Initially, we believe breaches will result in Improvement Notices and First Tier Tribunals in the case of appeals, but there is the possibility of criminal sanctions as non-compliance may endanger consumers. Operators should therefore seek advice as early as possible.”
It cannot be a coincidence that the Sentencing Council has chosen now to launch a consultation on its proposed guidelines for judges and magistrates to use when sentencing people for food safety, hygiene offences and corporate manslaughter.
If a customer dies from an allergic reaction while eating in a hotel that has failed to comply with the new Regulation, for example, then we could in theory see that criminal prosecutions under the Corporate Manslaughter Act and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 may apply. Under this legislation, it is the organisation which is liable rather than any individual members of staff. A court would look at the systems and practices implemented across the organisation in assessing whether a gross breach has occurred, which could in theory include a breach of the Regulation.
As an industry getting to grips with the new regime, it seems we will have to rely on the goodwill and support of Environmental Health Officers and Trading Standards Officers. However, the more a business prepares for and documents their compliance, the greater the chance that problems will be avoided.
At the Institute of Hospitality, we believe that compliance is easier than it appears. Even if you are one of those businesses that have taken little or no action so far, we have created a 1-2-3 step approach to compliance. Members can follow our three easy-to-understand steps when they access our online FIR Toolbox. The Toolbox also includes a selection of resources freely available to non-members.
An estimated 21 million adults in the UK suffer from a food allergy so, although we are now in an adjustment period as hospitality businesses get acclimatised to the new Food Information Regulations (FIR), astute organisations will see the opportunities that arise from helping customers make the right choices for their needs. These businesses can become the hospitality businesses of choice for consumers with allergies – and the friends, family and co-workers who might accompany them for a meal – by complying with FIR and offering a broader range of allergen-free foods to meet customers’ needs.
The Institute of Hospitality’s FIR Toolbox is available at: www.instituteofhospitality.org/publications/fir_toolbox