Food Information to Consumers Regulation (FIC) – Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum Presentation

The FPA addressed this highly influential forum in July.  The audience included Government, local government, food brands, packaging, retail, catering, foodservice, academic and legal.  Also present were a large contingent from the Food Standards Agency. The papers from the forum will be available soon however the presentation made by the FPA can be downloaded here.

Chairing the meeting were Lord Haskins and Baroness Scott.

With so many from DEFRA and the FSA in attendance the opportunity was used to raise the question why if prosecution will be made for not declaring allergen information is the Government allowing packaging not proven to be safe for food into the UK? The audience were reminded that safe food needs safe packaging.

A number of FPA members and operators kindly provided information which was used in the presentation. The following is a summary of comments made regarding  the implementation of these regulations that came into force in December 2014

– On the whole the industry holds the view that providing allergen information is a good thing.  The industry does not wish to be responsible for making someone ill

– Chefs need to know with total certainty there is no risk of them serving an item containing an allergen to a customer who would react to the allergen.  Serving staff should if in doubt refer to Chef.  If not certain Chefs are simply not serving he meal to the customer. The difficulty lies with the wording ‘may contain’. Would you take the chance that it doesn’t contain?

– Kitchens need information and the reassurance that information from providers is totally up to date reflecting even the most subtle changes in formulation.

– The provision of information from food providers is therefore critical to the success of label solutions. FPA member foodservice distributors have invested hugely in ensuring they are able to provide kitchens with information and without distributors the application of FIC would have been problematical. The difficulty is when food providers make changes and fail to inform distributors. Particularly smaller food companies, some used because the kitchen wishes to buy locally, aren’t always informing distributors quickly enough.

– There are 3 broad solutions offered by FPA members: Back of house labels; software based and cloud based.  All 3 are seen to be working well.

– The system is very dependent on customers declaring they have allergen issues

– FIC regulations are being adhered to with greater ease among the more national foodservice operation and caterers. It is suspected that despite the availability of software and cloud based solutions a high proportion of independent operators are not fully compliant. A shame because the labelling options available give them the opportunity to be so.

– Kitchens are erring on the side of caution with less spontaneous / random selection of ingredients and more long term menu planning. Nothing can be left to interpretation.

– This is resulting in national caterers having a more national menu rather than one which might reflect local tastes, there is also less changing with the seasons.

– There are examples of customers ordering an item then asking about allergens

– The regulation may well be increasing food waste as food left the previous day is not being created into a new dish because busy Chef’s haven’t the time to pause to work out the allergen implications

– The regulations are not being applied consistently by market players – online ordering being an example with an inconsistency between the major portals

– Overall FIC is working, the allergen sufferer is better informed, labels read better, operators and caterers are asking for more reports about the food they buy, the sector generally has become more sophisticated and software developments are including the provision of profit margins.