Restaurants still looking for least obtrusive ways to provide information on allergens

Photo: Ivana Vonderková

As of December 13th 2014 new food allergy labelling legislation went into force across the EU. It requires food businesses to provide allergy information on pre-packaged foods as well as food sold unpackaged, for example in restaurants, deli counters, bakeries and sandwich bars. While the change for food producers has been fairly straightforward, albeit expensive, many restaurant owners are still looking for the least obtrusive way of providing this information to clients.

Photo: Ivana Vonderková
According to the new EU legislation food businesses are bound to provide information relating to 14 of the most common allergens, including eggs, milk, fish, mollusks and peanuts. While on pre-packaged foods this information must appear on the label – with a minimum font size of 1,2mm -the way in which the information has to be provided on food sold unpackaged is not defined. Consequently restaurant and deli owners, who are far from happy about the new legislation are still looking for the least obtrusive way in which to present the information.

Some restaurants have added numbers specifying the given allergies to the items on their menu. In this way the guest is warned that the select food contains an allergenic but must ask the waiter for a list of the allergens in order to find out more.

Other restaurants have put up notices saying that the information is available on request from the waiter and some – such as the restaurant chain - have two kinds of menus: one with the information and one without – handing out the menu that includes allergies on request. Chef Radek David from Babicina zahrada says marking 14 different allergens would wreck havoc with his menu. “Three would be possible, but 14 is too much –so we have a special list of all the dishes that we cook with the respective allergy information and hand that out on request,” he says.

Even the country’s five star restaurants are not happy. One of the country’s best known chefs Roman Paulus, a Michelin star cook from the Alcron, says the norm is unnecessary and refuses to spoil his menu by adding numbers or allergies to dishes. “A menu is a work of art – I am not going to turn it into an Excel table,” Paulus told the daily Pravo. He says his restaurant has always provided this service anyway. “Customers let the waiter know about any allergies they may have and we prepare their food accordingly,” he points out.

School canteens are now putting their daily menus with the respective allergy information contained on the school’s web page for parents to check out and small stores selling unpackaged goods usually provide the information on request. Gradually the new norm is taking root and customers are getting used to requesting the information.

Over the Christmas holidays restaurant owners, small shops and eateries had a period of grace, but as of January 1st inspectors from the Food Inspection Office are out in the field and ready to slap a hefty fine on anyone who has failed to comply with the new norm in one way or another.